Uncovering the French Riviera's Jewel - Art, Beaches, and Mediterranean Elegance
This was the third stop on our 2018 Europe Adventure; We had already decided that our 2018 trip to Europe would include a trip to Paris and Mont Saint-Michel, and since we were already in France, we included Nice as another destination for all the obvious reasons including the fact that Celeste had never been there. We made this decision because Nice is very central to the Cote D’Azur area, which meant that places like Monaco and Villefrance were simple day trips - note the use of the word "trips" versus "tours". We knew where we wanted to go and we knew how to get there! We departed Paris from the Charles de Gaulle Airport in the late morning, such that we could arrive in Nice at approximately the check-in time for our VRBO apartment rental. Arrival was on time at the Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, and we took a taxi to Massena Plaza. Yes we could have taken a train from Paris to Nice, but as our available time was limited before we had to depart for Madrid, we opted for air travel so that we could be in the Cote D'Azur area for as much time as we had.
Some Interesting Facts about Nice, France / Where is it? Map
- Nice has more traffic lights than any other city in France.
- Nice is the fifth largest city in France by Population size.
- Nice Hosts a Carnival every year, around mid-February, this carnival can be dated back as far as 1294.
- Europe’s Largest greenhouse, Phoenix Park Floral, which hosts 2,500 different plant Species, is located in Nice.
- The Nickname of Nice is Nice la Belle, which means Nice the Beautiful.
- The Promenade des Anglais, which means “Promenade of the English”, is 5 miles long path walk, which was built by the English in 1820, who used Nice as a winter resort so they could go for walks along the seashore.
- Nice’s oldest restaurant opened in 1892, Maison Barale.
Our VRBO Rental at Massena Plaza
We had reserved a nice apartment (from VRBO) on the Massena Plaza, close to shopping, Restaurants, beach and the old town. Because the plaza is so "centered" in Nice, we did not have very far to walk to enjoy any aspect of the city. You can jump over to the VRBO link and get details on this apartment, but it is very inexpensive at $92 per night (average).
Our VRBO rental apartment was in this building (on the left), on the third floor on the backside of the building.
See the train tracks in image # 1? Those are for the
Nice Tramway System. You can ride from one end of Nice to the other in just 17 minutes. The
Tramway is available every 3 to 5 minutes during the day, and every 12 to 15 minutes at night
till 1AM. This system has proven to be so popular that a second line is under construction.
NOTE: Click here for a map of the Nice Tramway System and other information regarding Nice.
NOTE: Click here to watch a video we made of this area. Image # 2 is an image taken from that video, and is also clickable to view this video.
Old Town Nice France Map
Directly across from the Massena Plaza was the Vieille Ville ("Old Town area"), full of shops, restaurants, pubs and various stores. The Vieille Ville is a living testament to Nice's rich history, dating back to the Greeks and Romans. As we wandered through its maze-like alleyways, our imaginations ran wild as we envisioned the bustling Roman city of Cemenelum.
Walking around this area of Nice is very pleasant, most of the old town streets are "pedestrian only" for example. You might see the occasional bicycle, or a delivery van, but the streets in old town are primarily for people walking.
Old Town Streets
A very typical street scene in the old town section of Nice. Narrow streets, pedestrian-only, shops everywhere with the occasional pub or restaurant. A lot of small shops selling a wide range of products.
This is an interesting area to explore, or window shop, or to find a pub or restaurant. Every where you look there is something unique!
Nougat shops can be found all over Nice, they are popular and worth a try! This particular shop is the Le Nougat de Montségur.
Nougat has an interesting history, it originated in Baghdad, Iraq (in the 10th century AD) and spread throughout the Mediterranean countries. However, the original recipe was created by the ancient Greeks and was enjoyed by the Romans who called it nux gatum.
Castle Hill Area Map
Castle Hill is at the east end of old town, just behind the building in the center of image # 1 (left).
Although there are multiple ways to reach the top of La Colline du Chateau ("Castle Hill"), the one we chose starts by the waterfront and ascends a series of steep stairs. The reward is a set of amazing views from each staircase platform, and from the top.
Hundreds of years ago, the entire city of Nice was situated on top of this hill. By the 11th century, the hill sported a Medieval Chateau, a grand Cathedral, and a bustling hilltop village, all encircled by a massive walled fortress (aka Castle) - which is how this hill got its name.
Louis the XIV conquered the fortress in 1706 and to ensure that he would not have to recapture the fortress ever again, he ordered everything to be dismantled stone by stone, many of which ended up paving the Promenade des Anglais.
Image # 2 (right side) is another view of Castle Hill, with the Cours Saleya Market below. That image is the property of Niels Elgaard Larsen via Wikimedia.
Top of Castle Hill
The top of Castle Hill contains a very pretty park (Parc du Chateau and also referred to as Castle Hill "Colline du Chateau") and there is a cemetery (Cimitiere du Chateau) at the northern end of the park. The cemetery was created in 1783 and currently contains over 2,800 tombs.
There are two ways to reach the top of Castle Hill
We stopped to catch our breath on the way up the steep stairs to Castle Hill. It was a very hot day, no clouds and lots of sunshine and we were wringing wet from perspiration by the time we got to the top!
Warning: if you are not at a reasonable level of health, do not attempt to climb these stairs as they are very steep! There is an elevator available near the stairway entrance.
The view is towards the west and you can see the Nice beach and the Promenade du Anglais, marching off towards the Nice Airport in the distance.
NOTE: Image # 2 is the property of Fraselpantz via Wikipedia, all other images are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.
Beach Areas of Nice Map
What a stunning view of the city of Nice from the top of Castle Hill! Actually we had stopped to catch our breath after the very steep stairs, and happened to notice how great the view was!
These views are looking west, and although you cannot see it in these images, the Nice Airport is in this direction. You can also determine that these images were taken in the early morning, as the beaches are not yet crowded.
The Promenade des Anglais parallels the Quai de Etats-Uni ("United States Wharf") and they both parallel the beaches. That is not a "public" beach as Americans think of them, the beaches are "owned" by various businesses and you frequently have to pay a small fee to use either the beach or their facilities. For example, see where all the beach chairs are in the lower left of image # 1? That is the Plage Publique des Bains de la Police ("Public Beach of the Police Baths") and not far west is the Plage Publique de Castel ("Public Beach of Castel") and this continues all the way to the airport.
Within those "private" beaches are changing rooms & toilets, however each are either "pay to use" or are accessible only if you are a customer of that section of the beach.
The view looking east from the top of Castle Hill can be seen in the images below in the "Port de Nice" section. On the eastern side of the hills that rise up next to the harbor, is Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Promenade des Anglais
Taking a stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, which runs along side the beach from Castle Hill all the way to the Nice Airport. If you want to go to the beach, or if you want to just take a look at the Mediterranean Sea, you are going to wind up walking along this Promenade.
This is a pedestrian only walk-way, however there is a bicycle path directly adjacent to the promenade. See the steel fencing on the right side of image # 1 (left)? That separates the bicyclists from the pedestrians.
NOTE: Image # 2 above is the property of Alexander Migl via Wikimedia Commons using the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 License.
Beaches are different in Nice
As you can see in these images, the beach here is covered with pebbles, easy to walk on. We spread our towels out and enjoyed the beach, and were comfortable on the pebbles. It was such a nice day, the lack of sand was not an issue for us.
The pebbly beaches of Nice and its surroundings offer a unique and refreshing alternative to sandy shores. The smooth stones provide a comfortable surface for sunbathing and strolling along the water's edge, while the clear waters offer excellent opportunities for swimming and snorkeling. Additionally, the pebbly beaches contribute to the unique coastal ecosystem, providing a habitat for a variety of marine life.
Warning: We did not see (or bump into) any pick-pockets on this walkway, but there are pan-handlers and scam artists attempting to work the crowd along this route. The guys carrying trinkets will rush up to you, and attempt to engage you in a conversation that is meant to keep you in place while they make their pitch.
Port de Nice Map
This view of the port is obtained by walking through the Castle Hill park headed north (past the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Cimiez), the port is just below Castle Hill and there are various spots where you can get a good view of the harbor below.
The Port de Nice as seen from above the Monument aux Morts on Castle Hill. You can catch a ferry in this port to various locations in the Mediterranean Sea, including Corsica & Sardinia.
The cruise port (AKA "Villefranche-Nice cruise port") is popular mainly as port of call on Western Mediterranean itineraries. It is often included in the summer schedules of major cruise lines like Pullmantur (Spain), Marella (UK), P&O UK, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Disney, also the all-inclusive luxury brands like Silversea, Azamara, Crystal.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is just east of the Harbor, on the other side of the area in the background of this image # 3.
This harbor seemed to be primarily utilized by smaller ships & yachts, Cruise Ships utilize the neighboring Villefranche Bay. However, we did find after some research, that this harbor is also used by two ferry companies that provide ferry service to various locations in the Mediterranean Sea.
Cours Saleya Market Map
We discovered the Cours Saleya market on our old town exploration, they sold everything here; flowers, vegetables, various meats, candy, olives, etc.
We arrived here in the early morning, and already a number of locals were shopping. There are also several restaurants open, and a number of people selling various things to eat. All of these food items were either home grown, or home made, and the food stalls were very popular with everyone.
Image # 3 - this YouTube video is one we took while we were walking through the market, admiring all of the good things to eat! Please note that the wet paving stones in the market area were not due to rain, the shop keepers washed down everything prior to the market opening that morning.
Promenade du Paillon Map
Jean-André Masséna Statue
Located in the Promenade du Paillon, a very nice park adjacent to Massena Place.
This park runs east & west from Massena Plaza, west to the Promenade des Anglais and east to the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum. Wide sidewalks, trees, benches, a very nice park to stroll or relax.
Jean-Andre Massena (6 May 1758-4 April 1817) was a Marshal of the First French Empire under Emperor Napoleon I. He was nicknamed "the Dear Child of Victory", and he served with distinction during Napoleon's Italian Campaign and while commanding French forces during the fight against Portugal and Great Britain from 1811 to 1814 during the Peninsular War.
NOTE: Click here to read the complete article about Jean-Andre Massena.
Dinner at the Le Rocher Restaurant
We ate dinner at the Le Rocher restaurant, and had a great meal of mussels and fries ('moules et frites'). We arrived for dinner early, so that we could have a sidewalk table. The restaurant is adjacent to the Port de Nice and the view from the sidewalk tables is very good.
Images # 2 and 3 are the exterior of the restaurant where we ate our dinner. We did not know it at the time, but we had visited this same restaurant when they were located in Rouen, France. See our blog post for this same restaurant in Rouen by clicking here
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