Why have I not been to the French Riviera yet?!? After having an amazing time in Paris, I said adieu to the City of Light and headed south for the city of sun, Nice the beautiful. Hugging the Mediterranean Sea, Nice has it’s warm tangerine and saffron buildings tipping their terra-cotta roofs towards the calm blue sea and the alps in turn peer from a distance over the town. In close proximity to Italy, Nice reminded me of Cinque Terre, a small area on the Italian Riviera. Founded by the Greeks, inhabited at one time by the Romans and then later vacationed by English aristocrats, there is a little splash of lingering cultures everywhere you look.
The weather here was beautiful. Sunny with a warm breeze flowing to the shore, it was the perfect temperature to soak up the sun, enjoy a meal in one of the many outdoor dining spots in town or walk around exploring the city. Being the sun seeker that I am, I immediately hit the beach. This was my first experience on a “sand alternative” ocean setting. I’m more familiar with white sandy beaches, or gritty pebbles under my feet but I was forewarned that this would be a different experience. The ground below the bathers is covered in smooth, oblong grey stones. They fall into the depths of the Azur-blue water and once wet they are the only slippery things between you and the water. It was fun to see everyone’s technique for trying to navigate over the stones up and down the small hill into the sea. It was almost impossible to do it gracefully and we had nicknames for everyone’s techniques. I opted for the “run as fast as you can and look like an idiot” method sprinting up to shore as the stones fly under your feet, while others scooted up on their backsides, which we coined the “beached walrus” method. Another popular technique was the “upward dog” which was basically crawling out of the water on all fours up the little hill until you could eventually get your footing. Either way it is worth looking a little foolish because the water is refreshing and clear. More salty than usual, the sticky granules cling to your skin and make your hair smell like the sea. You submerse yourself into the cool water and are immediately baptized into relaxation mode.
We stayed in “Old Nice” (Vieille Ville) while there and I absolutely loved it. You navigate your way out of the hustle and bustle of town away from the waters edge, weaving up through hilly streets and mazes of alleyways and old staircases. My friend’s apartment sat high up on the hill and boasted beautiful views of the city. There are narrow streets lined with little shops, specialty stores and small restaurants. The houses have iconic windows full of flower boxes and lines with linens hanging out to dry. The atmosphere is easy going and serene. The only down side to our stay is cars seldom can access points higher up in the old town so for public transportation you need to walk closer into the city, making it an adventure getting “Big Red” (my giant suitcase) up to the apartment.
The markets are some of my favorite parts of the city. The Saleya Market, the most well known, has vendors pop up tents and tables throughout the square 6 days a week selling fruits, veggies and fragrant flowers. If you are in town long enough be sure to catch it any day from Tuesday-Sunday and then peek back on a Monday when antique and vintage wares replace the food and flower stands. The other market not to miss is the fish market in Place Saint-Francois. Open daily (exept Mondays) the fish market is small but offers an extensive selection of fresh catches. It is entertaining to see the seagulls follow their food and perch themselves atop the fountain in the square mimicking the pigeons in hopes of snatching breakfast.
Nice is full of amazing little churches and cemeteries. Around every corner I was awestruck with how old and beautiful the churches and cathedrals were. There are a few not to miss sanctuaries on the list. The first is the largest Russian Orthodox church in Western Europe. The church, completed in 1912 was a gift of Tsar Nicholas II and has been in court over ownership disputes the past six years. Finally, this year it has been returned to the hands of the Russian government but is open to the public to explore (For Free!) daily. The architecture is stunning and worth a look. Did I mention it’s beautiful and free?? Another not to miss religious building is the Monastery of Cimiez, which is tucked away above the Parc des Arènes across from the Matisse Museum. As you navigate through the olive trees in the park you climb the stairs and in view is a canary and crimson church alongside an old brick building. Go inside so you don’t miss the beauty of the frescos in the building where Franciscan friars have worshiped since the 15th century and still live in today. Make sure to spend some time around the property, there is a beautiful garden with fabulous views of the city and the treasure of the spot for me was the cemetery on the property. Small white stoned walkways weave in and around marble statues and monuments honoring those who have long left this world. There was a quiet reverence with no one around but myself and an eery feeling comes over you if you spend enough time here alone. You’d be surprised to find the graves of painters Matisse and Dufy and literary Nobel Prize winner Martin du Gard are located here the churchyard.
The food in Nice is a delicious blend of Provincal, Mediterranean, and traditional Nicois. You can’t pass up fresh seafood dishes here and the olive oils are out of this world (go to Oliviera to find great olive oil and have a meal at their delicious restaurant). There is an Italian influence in a lot of the cuisine and on almost every street you can find an Italian restaurant to grab a pizza and gelato. Traveler Tip: The cheese (Margherita) pizza always comes with a yummy black olive in the center but beware, it has a pit!!
The “fast food” of the city is called Socca and is not to be missed. It’s a chickpea based crepe-like griddle cake and is a local specialty so give it a try while you are in town. Every local I asked said you have to try Socca at either Chez Pipo or Chez Theresa. Our favorite local dessert was the gelato from Fennochio, with their dozens of fresh and unique flavors make sure to save room for dessert!