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[tour de france] it’s nice in Nice

July 27, 2012

If you ever happen to be jetlagged, hungry and missing the warm Sydney sun and have a flight to catch at 6am the next morning, do yourself a favour and get your man-friend to check the alarm you’ve set before heading off to bed in a crumpled, cranky mess.

Don’t, as I did, mutter something about it all being fine and fall asleep only to realise at about 5:10am (being the time you were supposed to have left the hotel by) that the alarm was set for “p.m.” instead of “a.m.”

My was that an interesting morning.

Destination: Nice
This post is part of the onebitemore “Tour de France” series, published every Friday until I run out of stories to tell. To see an overview of the trip or to see other posts in this series, click on the map to be redirected to the index page.

A frantic pack, checkout, 700m sprint to the check in counter, 1km sprint through the airport to the boarding gate and semi-panicked flight later (because, hey, who recovers that quickly from almost missing their flight? Certainly not me), we had landed. In Nice.

NICE!

(insert cheers!)

Rather than stick with the day-by-day approach that I’ve taken so far (which would leave you with months of Nice and Surrounds, and also days where nothing at all happens apart from a couple of chocolate eclairs and me in a pair of trackies) I’ve decided to split these posts into three parts:

1. Out and about in Nice

2. Eating in Nice

3. Side trips from Nice (Monaco / Cassis / Cannes)

Hope you like them!

a place to call home (sort of)

“I’m not sure I’ll ever get sick of this view” tweeted Koji, on our fourth morning in Nice.

the view from our window // the velobleu station

We’d booked an apartment for the week, located right on the Promenade des Anglais with stand-on-your-balcony-and-smell-the-sea-breeze proximity to the ocean.

At €450 for seven nights, we had a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment with a little kitchenette and a washing machine built into the wall. There were electronic shutters to keep the noise and light out at night and a secure entry point so we knew out passports would be safe where we left them (in the microwave, in case you were curious).

(image sourced from apartment hire website)

There was a Carrefour around the corner and a bakery (more on that little gem in my next post) across from that.

Sure, it was a good 2km away from the centre of town, but that meant it was quiet at night.

It also meant that I had ample opportunity to practice what was to become my favourite / most hated / favourite activity - bike riding.

the velobleu

“We should check out the bikes” said Koji, excitement brimming in his voice.

Surely the sun and the sea would tip the scales in his favour, particularly after my flat refusal to have anything to do with bicycles at the Vondelpark.

“But we have an all day bus pass! For free! Well, not for free but we already paid for it!” I replied, hopeful in extending my bike-free days by just one more.

“But the bikes are for a week!” he countered “We should at least try them out and see if we can use them for the whole time.”

“It is sunny out…”

“Ok! Shoes on! Let’s go!”

riding around Nice // the velobleu

The Velobleu – a ridiculously cheap rent-a-bike system with docking and pickup stations throughout Nice – became our primary means of travel throughout our stay. For €5 per week, we had access to any of the 1,750 bikes located at 175 stations throughout Nice. Bike rentals are free for the first 30 minutes, with the next 30 minutes costing €1 and each hour after that costing an additional €2.

The best thing was that you could dock the bike at a nearby stand after half an hour and immediately check out a new bike, so (unless you were horribly lost and nowhere near a docking station) the bike hire for each session would effectively be free!

Helmets aren’t required in Nice, and the bike paths are wide and travel along most of the key roads meaning that even a baby-cyclist like me was able to get around with only minor tantrums. (“I can’t cross the road on my bike! I’ll run into a.. uh-oh.. ohno! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”)

You will need a local mobile phone to access the bikes (which we got almost as soon as we landed, mostly so we would have the internet on us all the time!), though some stations allow for credit cards to be inserted instead.

(For more information, I found this site really handy.)

le marché

Our first stop (on what I thought was a particularly gruelling 2km bike ride in first gear along a flat, pedestrian free corridor) was the markets in Old Town Nice.

“We (gasp!) need (gasp!) to stop (gasp!) here!” I panted as we pulled our bikes over into the docking station.

“But why?”

“Because (gasp!) this is where (gasp!) (gasp!) (gasp!) LUNCH!

(Don’t worry, I got far better at the bicycle thing over the next week – even to the point where I was riding in a skirt(!) and overtaking slower riders (!) and swearing in French(!))

french white asparagus at the markets

The Cours Saleya Markets in Old Town Nice are held every morning (except Mondays) and house a wide range of gorgeous flowers (50 flowers for €15!) as well as home made oils, tapenades, fresh produce (tomatoes! asparagus!) and a stand selling freshly made socca.

Surrounding the markets are rows and rows of restaurants, cafes and other eateries – most of them touristy. We ended up eating at one such establishment on our first day in Nice and had such a lovely meal that we almost didn’t care about how touristy it all was.

The fresh produce at the markets had us hooked and there was hardly a day that we didn’t “happen to swing by” just to see what we could be tempted by, nevermind the 4km return trip by bicycle to do so.

We were especially hooked on the fresh tomatoes of such a varying range of colour, size and smell that we ended up buying one or two of each, just to try! The asparagus, thick and white, was almost snaffled up by us on our second to last day, until we realised we would be without kitchen facilities to cook them in.

(We’d also, by that stage, eaten so many three course meals for lunch and dinner and drank so many bottles of wine that the mere thought of food was almost unappetising. True story).


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Le Château

It was a little while before my bicycle skills picked up to the extent that I was able to cycle all the way from our apartment to the base of the staircase that led to the Chateau on the point at Nice, and even then, I wasn’t quite dextrous enough to cycle past it and back down the other side to the port.

“I was flying along today wasn’t I!” I exclaimed to Koji as we docked our bikes a couple of stops up from the Cours Selaya.

“If by flying you mean getting all the way up into second gear, then yes darling. You did great.”

I probably should have reserved some of that energy as today we were tackling Castle Hill (of Nice).

The castle itself isn’t much to see (she says, gesturing at the ruins and rubble in the top frame of the above picture), but its position on the top of a hill which looks over both the Nice coastline and port allow for spectacular scenery.

Once you’ve made it to the top, that is.

There is a lift service that will run you all the way up past the steps and most ways to the top of the hill for €1.20, but the stairs (plentiful and rickety as they may be) are a better choice, leading you gradually upwards and allowing plenty of stops at which you can soak in the scenery that is the Nice coastline.

It really is a sight you can’t get sick of.

Each level up presents a different, vaster, more enchanting view of the coloured rooftops, the aquamarine ocean (in a colour that you’ll hardly believe to be real – surely they must dye it. Surely!) and the mountains in the distance, still topped with flecks of snow.

For a couple of coins, you can take over the binoculars that sit at one of the viewpoints.

“There’s the square we always get coffee at!”

“Haha I can see our apartment!”

“Oh look, someone just stacked it on their bicycle.”

If you’re particularly lucky (and we were that glorious blue skied day), you’ll hear the strains of an accordion playing as you soak in the view. A lone busker collecting coins from the tourists that dare to walk the steps and settle mid way to the top for a break.

The grounds are vast and contain, aside from the chateau’s ruins, a playground, some beautifully manicured gardens, a cemetery and a collection of gorgeously pink trees that I stopped and took photos at until Koji could take no more and demanded either a coffee or at the very least, plans for lunch.


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the port

There are many paths from the chateau on the hill to the port of Nice, and the only French you’ll really need to know is that “la mer” means the sea and will have you heading back towards the beaches. Anything else spoken to you in jovial French by weathered, beret clad men with a puppy in tow means you’re heading into town.

We wandered past the antique stores (so many that they are said to rival those at Notting Hill in London), stopped for a brownie and a quick map consult, and meandered back towards Old Town Nice, past the tall yellow apartment buildings and the wrought iron gates of the Port.


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musee matisse

On yet another day we decided to get cultured and visit Musee Matisse up in the suburb of Cimiez, in the hills of Nice overlooking the ocean.

(We may have tried to ride our velobleu up there, but the steepness of the hills, our joint inability to read a map and a certain somebody’s need to use a bathroom now stymied that plan.)

It is better to take the bus.

Speaking of which, the buses in Nice are a flat €1.00 fare to wherever you might be going, whether Monaco or just down the road, and are an affordable option for when your legs are tired and the velos are scarce.

Up in Cimiez you’ll be able to see most of Matisse’s early works (including a replica of his famous blue cutouts, a display that shows how his studio might have looked with said blue cutouts annexed and a selection of bronze sculptures that I fell in love with at first glance).

Down the road and across a park (containing possibly the smallest carousel I’ve ever seen) is the monastery and a church with such elaborate, yet un-showy, paintwork that it is hard to tear oneself away.

You can also stumble around the graveyard attached to the church and check out the tombstones, some old, some new, all strangely intriguing, and the birds that sit and caw at you from atop the tombs.

Matisse’s grave is at the bottom of a windy staircase with a stunning view of the city and sea.

“He’s covered in pine cones” said Koji, staring at the cement block “I’m glad I walked through all those creepy graves to see this.”

And with a nod, we headed back towards the bus, and on to the Old Town for dinner.


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This post is part of the onebitemore “Tour de France” series, published every Friday until I run out of stories to tell. To see an overview of the trip or to see other posts in this series, click here.

Previously: Hungry & Delirious in Amsterdam

Next time: Nice – a three-course-tragedy


  • #1
    July 30th, 2012

    Nice has got to be one of my favourite places in the world. I only had 24 hours in the place but I knew it’s where I would return back to if I had the chance. Everything about the city I fell in love with – the culture, the locals, the atmosphere!

  • #2
    August 15th, 2012

    Lovely photos! Thank you for sharing. I’m French, I was born in Paris but grew up in the South of France (Carcassonne). I’ve been living overseas for 6 years (London, Tokyo and Sydney for the last 3 years!). I’m glad you had such a great experience in France! 🙂

  • #3
    October 26th, 2012

    Hеllо, I check your new stuff liκe every week.

    Your humorіstic style is witty, keep uр thе good work!

Shez