We got off the plane late in the evening, nearing 10pm and exited towards the public transport area. The tip of my tongue catches the salted air from that stretch of beach nearby that borders every image of the area. The bus takes us to Albert 1st, which is just 100m from the beach, and a few minutes walk from the hostel we have booked for the first two nights. On the way, we walked through the city’s Christmas market, which stayed up until Jan. 5 and was even more eye-catching than the ones we’d been through in the UK. A massive ferris wheel rotates tourists and locals alike above the city with a bird’s eye view to the Mediterranean Sea. Below are trampolines with bouncing harnessed children, and the wobbly ankles of struggling ice skaters circling the ice rink that had taken over the center of Place Massena. Opposite the markets is a large tiled area with sporadic spurts of water that gives the impression of a massive fountain, but actually serves as a children’s favorite spot to sprint through. Crepes and various candies send sugary clouds of steam to every emptied stomach passerby, making it impossible to say no. We nodded our heads to accept a Nutella-filled crepe for the next three evenings. The area is intoxicatingly welcoming, and hard to leave.
The first three days we explored without itinerary or plan, just following our feet and a simple tourist map from the hostel in case we found ourselves lost. Every morning we packed a backpack with a book, full water bottle, snacks of fruit and pretzels, sunglasses, a sweater, and a notebook. The first day we walked along the boulevard that traces the coast side. It took us into The Port, with oversized yachts and brightly painted dinghies. Every few hundred meters are tiny cracked staircases leading to the liquid aquamarine splashing over white jagged rocks. We joined locals who had tucked themselves into coves and plateaus worn from use and strip themselves of their heavy sweaters and scarves and expose leathery tanned skin to the sun.
On our way back to the city centre, we stop for a baguette sandwich lunch and spend the rest of the sunny afternoon on the rocky beach with a book in our palms. The next day we tackled some museums in the area. Thankfully, if you are under the age of 26 and are in the realm of “student”, the museums are free! We stopped first at the Photography Museum and saw cameras evolve from large boxy suitcases to the sleek ones we sport today. The best part of the museum was the featured artist in the attached gallery. His work was broken in several sections under titles like Deux (Two), and Metaphorique (Metaphors). I’m not particularly photograph savvy, but the collection was incredible and accessible for any viewer. That afternoon we visited the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, which scales four stories and ends with a rooftop view across the city. The works were from artists across the world, and it is definitely a must-see for any visitors!
Our third day we visited the Parc du Chateau. We heard that the park had amazing views, and it was perched above the beach boulevard. It is a short walk up several flights of stairs. We expected to walk along a small footpath through the trees, and use the balconies built into the cliff side to check out the views. We reached the top of the stairs and a massive park opened in front of us. Two small restaurants serving strong espresso shots and croissants. A playground for kids in the center of the oval area, and scenic views across the city of Nice towards Antibes, above the Port towards the nation of Monaco, and across the university area towards the mountains in the north. The park held the ruins of a 11th C. castle, a waterfall, and small bocci ball courts that older men used to gather as the sun rises towards its noon position. We stayed here for a few hours, sipping espresso, jotting in a journal and letting the sun soak into our pores.
The following morning we checked out of the hostel and stayed across town at Villa Rivoli, a beautiful B&B style hotel with low prices in the off-season. We spent the day reading on the beach and exploring the boulevards nearby. Old Town is an area that appears similar to every romantic movie set in Italy, with tall tight alleyways filled with clothing shops, artist’s works, cafes, and sweet shops. It’s labyrinth spits you out at an open square with an ornate church, or at the flower and antiques markets along the Promenade Anglais, or perhaps at Place Garibaldi with passing trams and clustered teens smoking cigarettes.
The next day (our 5th in the area), we were set to take a bus to the tiny nation of Monaco, for a two-day stay. Before we trekked our luggage for an hour around a three block radius, we visited Notre Dame de Nice. The white-stoned version of the Notre Dame de Paris is smaller, yet quieter and just as humbling.
We arrived in Monaco and started the 10 minute walk to the apartment we’d rented on Airbnb. Across Monaco, taking the place of roads and alleyways are stairs. Our apartment was in a refurbished building on Escaliers De Geraniums (Stairs of Geraniums). These staircases are not the typical length. Picture your average staircase and triple it, and then add a few more steps. After finally reaching the apartment, which was incredible, we sat on the tiny balcony and enjoyed the final hours of sunshine. That evening we stayed in and used the high-tech kitchen to cook dinner for ourselves. The next morning we didn’t leave the apartment. We played chess and Rummy 500 until late afternoon on the balcony. That day my family messaged me with temperature lows of -32 degrees. We, meanwhile, hadn’t seen a cloud in 6 days and the temp hadn’t lowered beyond 60 degrees.
That evening we explored Monaco, visited Monte Carlo and the hotels hidden between the ground and the sea. It’s an overwhelming country to visit, especially as a 20-something with no job and no foreseeable vast fortune. Gold trims every handrail, building and shopping center and the city is filled with the best dressed people (or most expensive taste) I’d ever seen. It’s a sight to see, but if you’re there too long, your wallet will be emptied.
Our final day in the area, we took the bus back to Nice, France and stayed at another apartment through Airbnb, this one tucked towards the mountains just north of the city. We played card games on the beach, and roamed our favorite areas one more time. That evening the attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris occurred, and we wandered into a large demonstration in Place Garibaldi. You can read about that experience here. The gathering was peaceful and saddening, yet unified.
Nice, France turned out to be one of our favorite cities. The area is friendly, easy to visit on a budget (or on a luxury holiday), has amazing and incredibly diverse food and culture. A must-see for any traveler, of any age or experience!
Do you have a favorite city or travel experience? Tell me about it in the comments.