The French Riviera evokes visuals of sun, sand and glamour. While you will certainly find lots of sun and glamour, sand is hard to find and most of the beaches are made up of varied size of pebbles. So if you are just going for the beaches then you should look for another destination. But if you like pristine blue water, jaw dropping views, picture perfect medieval villages, towering Roman monuments and good weather almost all year round then you have to look no further than this South west corner of France.
When I planned a trip to France this was the first region I finalised because of all the above mentioned reasons and memories of watching Micheal Schumacher zoom around the Street circuit at Monaco in a F1 car. I had 3 full days to explore the region and being the manic tourist that I am , I wanted to fit as much into those three days as possible. Travel sites will tell you that it is a region enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but that advice is for people who have lots of time and money to spare. Namely, not moi !!
I flew into Nice as a connecting flight from Mumbai. The Nice airport is a strip of land jutting into the water and one of the picturesque airports you will see. (leh airport being the Gold Standard) The travel from the airport to the City centre is very conveniently done by buses run by the Lignes D’Azur, Number 98 and 99 to the Train station and the Old town respectively, running every 15 minutes from both terminals(http://www.lignesdazur.com/index.asp?old_rub=1). Fare at the time of writing is 6 Euros per person and is a mega money saver. The bus ride is along the sea and not at all boring.
The hotel booked was a small hotel , Hotel de la Mer in Place Massena (http://hotel de la Mer Nice 06), a beautiful public square adjacent to old town and most of the tourist sites. The bus dropped me 100 m from the hotel door. The hotel itself has no elevator so if you have giant bags you better have giant biceps to carry them up two flights of stairs. The room booked was a slightly more expensive one with a view of the square. And is worth every extra Euro paid. Judge for yourself from the photo below.
After freshening up we left to explore the old town and the other sites of Nice. The first thing that strikes you, even on the bus from the airport is the clear blue colour of the ocean. Its unlike anything I have ever seen in India. The old town is full of small lanes, coloured buildings, squares lined with eateries and wonderful gelato (flavours more than you can imagine!!). After loitering through and having gelato we had the energy to climb up Castle Hill. ( Note – It has no Castle!!). The elevator was closed for servicing. The steps give great photography opportunities to click Old town. On top there is a garden and cafes for a quick bite. From top you can see all of Nice on one side and the Nice Harbour on the other side. After taking lots of photos and selfies we descended into old town. There are a few old cathedrals to see and take rest in. After that we decided to walk down the famous Promenade de Anglais.
The Promenade is a broad walkway along the coast with multiple rent a spot beach along it (Not worth it ) and free seats to enjoy the view and live music in the evening (totally worth your time). After gazing at the Ocean and resting our legs we entered the public part of the stony beach. The better half had a walk in the sea shore. We walked till the famous and most expensive Hotel Negresco and then started the walk back to the hotel. We skipped the famous modern art museums (Matisse etc) as frankly I don’t understand what the fuss is about. The Russian Cathedral was under renovation and hence out of bounds for tourists.
Dinner was at the Attimi restaurant at the Place Massena, stones throw from the hotel,which serves great handcrafted pizzas with fresh ingredients made in wood fired ovens. Very delicious on its own and the waiter realising we are Indian graciously offered us their hot oil to make it more spicy!! Stomachs full and legs tired ( We walked more than 4-5 kms at a rough estimate) we retired to the hotel for a fitful night’s sleep. But not before we had a photography session at the beautifully lit Place Massena and its fountains.
Next day was a trip to the beautiful Eze village, the glamourous Villa Ephrussi Rothschild and a change of hotels to the small seaside town of Villefranche sur Mer. Topics for the next post, lest I put any rare person reading this to sleep.
Till then. Au revoir!!