NICE, May 21, 2012 — For those interested in taking in the beauty of the French coast, Nice is the perfect destination.
Strolling along the Promenade des Anglais amongst tourists and locals in mid-afternoon, there’s nothing quite like breathing in the sea air while enjoying the famous turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.
We decided to take a break from our French lessons in Aix-en-Provence for the weekend and set out for Nice on Thursday afternoon. Located about two-and-a-half hours away by train, a one-way ticket cost 38 Euros.
Passing through Cannes (the film festival was in full swing that weekend) on the 200 mile/hour TGV train, we had a great view of the southern French countryside along the way. Dozens of vineyards on the one side, and the coast on the other dominated the landscape until just before our destination came into view.
The theme of the trip was ‘quality-despite-frugality’ –we approached the weekend with the expectation that our only expenditures would be cheap accommodation, basic transportation, postcards for friends and family, and just enough food to keep us alive for three days.
The most recognizable part of Nice is the Promenade des Anglais tracing the coast of the Baie des Anges, translated as the “Bay of Angels”. Nineteenth-century vacationers from England desired a walkway along the coast, and decided to put the city’s beggars to work in constructing a promenade where once lay only empty beach.
Lined with shops, restaurants, casinos, and world-famous hotels, there’s more than enough to capture your attention and keep your camera busy.
Visit the Église Notre Dame du Porte, where we were greeted with solemn music as the organist prepared for Sunday’s mass. The music perfectly suited the darkened church as clouds rolled over the port city shortly after noon.
Although there are many cafes where you can find a café au lait, try Leo’s on Place Guynemer at the end of Rue Etats-Unis just before a 32-metre high war monument carved into the rocky edifice of the coast commemorating French soldiers from Nice lost in the 20th century.
Our waiter Marc struck up a conversation with us about what it’s like to work in the food industry in a country renowned for its fine cuisine. Turns out he used to live in California where he cooked for celebrities like Michael Douglas and President Barack Obama (before he became the commander-in-chief). His decision to return to Nice and to work in this particular café gave us an idea of just how valued this region is in the world of French dining.
Place Garibaldi is public square that serves as a reminder of Nice’s Italian heritage. Named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, who led the campaign for Italian unification (and desired to have Nice included in the new political formation), it’s now the busy site of food and antique markets.
Conclude your trip with a walk up to the Parc de la Colline du Chateau. A cliff overlooking the city, it provides spectacular views of the Mediterranean, the rocky beaches, and the Promenade des Anglais.
Along the way up the hill is La Tour Bellanda. Built in 1826, this tower sits in the exact location of the ancient castle tower destroyed in 1706.
At the very top of the hill is a beautiful waterfall (visible throughout the city) that conveys water from the Vesubie Canal created towards the late 19th century.
A perfect end to a great journey.
It’s worth taking a peek in the Hotel Negresco located at the midpoint of the coast. The building has a classically ornate French facade dressed in white, pink, and green, and is lit up brilliantly at night.
Just inside is the “Salon Versailles” complete with red velvet walls and delicately decorated wooden planks on the ceiling. The room, dedicated to Louis XIV includes a massive portrait of him. The main foyer centered on a massive crystal chandelier surrounded by portraits of French and Russian royalty. The Bentleys parked out front befitted a hotel where some suites go for 1,800 Euro per night.
We stayed at the “Hotel Faubourg Montmartre” for 17 Euro a night per person. Located about a 10 minute walk to the Espace Massena, Nice’s main public square, happens to be a great spot to share a bottle of wine in the early evening amongst locals and tourists.
The “Hotel Smith” is the older part of the city and is also a good budget option. Although it is slightly more expensive at 21 Euro a night per person it is much closer to the coast.
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