At the end of my two-week journey through France, my one and only regret about Nice is that I didn’t have more time there.
Arguably the most famous seaside city along France’s Côte d’Azur, this is the kind of place to hang out for at least three days. You need to let it wash over you, like the Mediterranean washes the rocky shore.
Or like a tired traveler leaning all the way back in a café chair, sipping a cocktail and staring off at the horizon.
For two weeks, I had been driving merrily down the length of France with my dear friend Christine (an American expat who lives in the Languedoc region), stopping occasionally to do things like swan around a Provençal villa and pick up a couple of her friends visiting from America. Nice was my last tango in France before heading to Italy and Croatia, and it just seemed like the right place to sit down and take it easy.
And I did. A little.
Having driven from L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence earlier in the day (about a three-hour drive along some gorgeously paved stretches of highway) we arrived late in the afternoon, found parking in an underground public lot, and dropped our luggage off at our Airbnb flat in the Vieux Nice (Nice’s Old Town). Christine and I then raced to return our rental car in the heart of town, managing to arrive a mere 10 seconds before the office closed…and a half-hour after I should have been put down for a nap. I would soon get that nap, though, and upon rising with a splash of color once again in my cheeks, I was finally ready to meet Nice.
The town was not quite how I’d pictured it, which would have involved ladies with big hats strolling on white sand with glasses of white wine in their hands, but it was soothing and romantic, full of cobblestone lanes and fluffy geraniums and colorful clocktowers. The beach is a tumble of rocks (any sand you’ll see here has been brought in from elsewhere), the sea is almost mirror-still, and everything of note that will ever happen here has already happened, long ago. The whole point of Nice is to be on vacation, so there’s little to worry about.
I’d recommend the passionfruit gelato at Fenocchio’s in the Place Rosetti. And don’t leave town before trying socca, a gluten-free pizza made with chickpea flour that’s a local delicacy; consider pairing it with a little honey (or miel in French), and you’re welcome in advance. I liked the socca at Nissa Socca (Rue Sainte Reparate, o6300), but then again, I only had the socca at Nissa Socca. There’s socca spots all over town: go nuts.
When you’re ready to have a drink, throw a stick into the Vieux Nice and take a seat where it lands. Every outdoor bar/café seems just as lovely as the next, with the same wines, the same cocktails, and the same assortments of olives, so see where your heart takes you. In that moment, ask yourselves if you want to be surrounded by 19th-century buildings on a shady square, tucked amongst the flower market on the Art Nouveau-era Course Saleya, or, if it’s still daylight out, right on the shore at one of the simple-yet-glamorous beach cafés.
For dinner, seek out seafood — specifically moules frites, if that’s your thing. You’ll get an enormous bowl of fresh mussels that have been tossed in butter and herbs and unicorn magic, then served with a side of crispy-fat fries. Pair this with a dry rosé, and congratulations — you’ve just met the South of France.
Our little group’s favorite local meal, though, was just across the lane from our apartment. We were drawn in by the Art Nouveau font on the sign at Le Démodé (18 Rue Benoit Bunico), but it was the friendly proprietor, the cozy, dimly-lit dining room, his adorable wire fox terrier sitting near the front door, and his gorgeous duck, vegetables and wine that kept us happy. Not too pricey for a touristy town, and one of the tastiest meals I had in France.
The bulk of my time on the Cote d’Azur was spent taking a Kensington Tours jaunt up into the mountains to explore ancient villages and make my own perfume, so I missed sashaying around the lobby of the famous Hotel Negresco (where my grandparents once stayed) and climbing the 1860 Bellanda Tower at Castle Hill for a graceful view over the sea.
Heck, I didn’t even get down to the sea; Christine and I just wandered alongside it on the Promenade des Anglais, enjoying the human circus of old and heavy-faced French people, dogs of all sizes, and wildly over-enthusiastic Japanese tourists.
But you’ll see. I’ll get back there someday, even if it’s just for one more day.
Or two. Yeah…two seems good.
If you’ve been to Nice, please let me know your favorite places there!