The French Riviera
Including the French Riviera in our travels was a “must” for me because outside of Paris it might be the most famous part of France. Nicknamed the Cote d’Azur (the blue coast) in 1887, the Riviera spans around seventy miles of Mediterranean Sea coastline in France. It includes well-known cities such as Cannes (of film festival fame), Antibes, St. Tropez, and Nice as well as some charming smaller towns along the way.
In the late 1700s, the Riviera became popular as a winter health resort for Britain’s upper classes. In the 1800s it became a playground for royalty and aristocrats. In the 1900s it drew famous writers -such as Hemingway, H.G. Wells, and Fitzgerald; and artists -such as Picasso, Matisse and Monet. After WWII it also became a tourist destination. It has served as a location for many movies over the years. In modern times, the Riviera is very popular with the rich and famous, many of whom own property there or visit with their yachts. After Paris, theCote d’Azur is the second most visited region in France and attracts over13,000,000 visitors a year.
I chose Nice for our stay because we could fly back to Paris from there at the end of our trip. Happily, our train ride between Aix and Nice was without drama or delays. We arrived at the Nice train station and had a short walk to our hotel.
After checking in, our first goal was to find the nearest grocery store to buy snacks for the hotel room. After we did that we went in search of an early dinner. We knew that the restaurants were likely to be closed at that time of the day, but hoped we might find one that was open. It wasn’t looking good. We were just at the point of giving up when we saw a Tabac store just up ahead. Tabac stores mainly sell things like tobacco products, stamps and lottery tickets, but they’d often been a lifesaver when we’d been in need of cold drinks while out and about. Beyond tobacco, stamps, and lottery – whatever other products were for sale seemed to depend on the owner.
This Tabac was a bit larger than most. There was some outdoor seating, which made us hope they might have sandwiches for sale or something -but they didn’t sell food. We decided to buy some cold drinks and head back to the hotel in defeat. Somehow the clerk thought we wanted to drink them there, not take them… so before we knew it, we were seated at a table outside and served our drinks. (Not that we were protesting much!) Luckily, while we were sitting there, I was facing a pizza place on the opposite corner that looked open and my phone confirmed that it was. We’d found dinner! While we were waiting for our pizza-to-go, we checked out the drinks cooler. We picked out a few drinks to take with us. A couple of them needed a bottle opener. This made us laugh a bit -because several months ago, Mike bought a couple of new belts from Columbia. After we got home, he noticed that the belts came equipped with a bottle opener on the back side of the buckle. He showed it to me saying… “Not that I’ll ever need it”… We could have never imagined at the time how handy that belt would be while we were traveling around in France!
The next morning, we started out by walking a few blocks West from our hotel so that we could stroll along the Avenue Jean Medecin to the sea. Nice is laid out more or less in a grid -at least in the area we were in. Any street heading South would have taken us to the waterfront, but the Avenue Jean Medecin is Nice’s major shopping street and I thought it would be interesting to see.
The Avenue is a wide pedestrian street, with the exception of the trams. Even so, people still mostly kept to the sidewalks, which were quite wide. This was one of the most industrial-looking pedestrian shopping streets I’ve seen.
Peeking down a side alley.
A few blocks from the beach, the Avenue ended in a large plaza called Place Massena with some strange art on display.
Nice was hosting an exhibition by the French artist Richard Orlinski.
These men in the air are an art installation called Conversation in Nice. There are seven of them -meant to represent the seven continents coming together in harmony. (You can see four of them in this picture).
The Sun Fountain sits at the end of the Place Massena.
We crossed the road beyond the fountain and walked the last few blocks to the beach.
After crossing the wide road along the edge of the sea, we arrived at the Promenade des Anglais (the Walkway of the English). This is a wide walkway that stretches for over four miles. People walk, run and ride bikes along it. There are steps that access the beach along the way. The blue chairs are symbolic of Nice’s waterfront.
The beach is more rocky than sandy, which surprised us.
This was the entrance to the Place Beau Rivage, which is mostly a public beach. There is a restaurant at this location and they also rent sun loungers, which I’m sure most people are happy to pay for to avoid having to lay on the rocks!
The statue is Totor the dog, created by an artist from Nice. There are several versions around the city -as well as a few in the United States.
We walked along the promenade in the direction of Castle Hill -seeing another gorilla by Richard Orlinski on the way.
Our destination was up in the trees at the top of the picture (below) ! You can see the stairs in this picture. The round building is Bellanda Tower. It was built in 1826 and sits in the location of one of the original towers of the old castle. It is now a maritime museum.
When we got to the spot where we’d need to cross the road to start climbing up the hill, we made a detour to an area off to our right where there was a “photo op”. There were so many people waiting to pose with the sign that we didn’t want to fuss with posing for a photo. It took a bit of patience to catch a quick picture between “posers”.
This lovely gate was along the wall nearby. I think it was a private access to a dock down below.
Next we started climbing stairs. Mike counted 323 steps to the top.
There was a large round balcony on the way up with this in the middle.
Beyond that spot, we got into more of a park-like setting. There was a Greek settlement on Castle Hill in the 4th century BC. By the 11th century there was a castle there. The castle was demolished in the early 1700s. Later, the area was developed into a large park. There is also a restaurant and cemetery there.
Castle Hill actually divides Nice into two areas. From the top we could see the “other side” which is the location of Nice’s port.
Another look at Nice from higher up.
We walked through the park at the top and noticed this interesting art. It turns out that in the 1960s the city architect designed some mosaics for the park. The designs were installed by a mason named Honoré Gilly.
On our way back down, we took some different paths than we did on the way up.
I loved this tree
Back down the stairs we went
From there, we wandered into the old part of Nice, which was not too large, but enjoyable to see since the area we stayed in was a lot more modern.
We found a plaza lined with restaurants and decided we should have a late lunch before the restaurants closed for the afternoon.
It was a market day, but they were packing up by the time we walked through.
I thought the street lights were cool.
What surprised me about the part of Nice we stayed in was how jam-packed the buildings were. It felt a bit concrete-jungle. Most of the streets in this area of Nice looked like this.
The older buildings caught my eye as almost being like wedding cake confections with their style and exterior decor. It took me a while to actually notice that there were newer buildings deftly intertwined amongst the old. The newer buildings were less ornate, but were built in a style to avoid standing out or distracting from the lovelier architecture.
Maybe one of the only doors that caught my eye here:
That wraps up our first day around Nice. Part two covers the rest of our visit.
Categories: France - Nice