Autumn has arrived in London and I must now accept that summer is over. In one of the final weekends of summer, we dashed off a final trip to the South of France. When I told my colleagues I was going to Nice for the weekend there was envy all around. It seemed that everyone had been to Nice at some point and everyone loved it. There isn’t too much to do in Nice except relax so we were obligated to do so!
I was surprised to find that Nice is actually the second most visited city in France and its tiny airport receives some 4 million tourists each year – that’s like a giant field trip with all of New Zealand! Naturally it also has the second largest hotel capacity in France; a true resort town. The airport included a significant area for private jets that we guessed were for all the visitors heading over to Monaco – but more on that in another post!
My first observation about Nice was the beach. On the bus from the airport to our hotel we drove along the coast with the glittering sea spread out before us – perfection. But we come from a land of fine sand beaches, so it was puzzling to see that the ‘beach’ in Nice is composed of large pebble stones! Suddenly the ‘private’ beaches, with paid-for loungers, seemed reasonable. The second observation was that everything is closed from 2pm until dinner time which meant we had trouble finding a spot for lunch. Eventually we settled at spot amongst the narrow streets to have a confusingly Italian experience – delicious nonetheless!
Our first task was to ascend to the lookout point at Colline du Chateau overlook. From there we could see the beach stretching out and the endless line of hotels and motels running along with it. On the eastern side of the park we looked over the harbour where several gorgeous yachts bobbled, including one that was once parked up at Auckland harbour! The park area itself is a lovely place to relax in the shade.
At the base of the cliff we had climbed is a Monument aux Morts – a memorial to those who died during WWI. This particular one was impressively carved into the cliff face and commemorates residents from Nice who perished during the war.
In the morning of our second day, we went out to the Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez which was up a little hill again. It was a beautiful blistering day to visit the monastery dating from the 800’s. We witnessed two wedding parties while we were there, one of which produced catchy live music that made me think we were in a folk movie.
In an adjoining park, we visited the ruins of the Arènes de Cimiez. There isn’t much left of it now, but this arena from the 2nd Century once had capacity for 5000 spectators. The trip had a relaxed feel overall and we took our time exploring the park before heading back to the main town area.
Back in the town we wandered through a local market (Marché aux Fleurs) where we picked up a gorgeous olive dish. And in the centre of a bustling square filled with restaurants and bars is the Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate. It’s a rather beautiful Baroque Cathedral with a dome featuring colourful tile patterns. Closer to our hotel was the St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral – a bit of an oddity! It has distinctive Russian aesthetics, reflecting its origins as a memorial to Tsaverich Nicolas.
Our final few hours in Nice were spent taking a dip in the ocean and lounging by the sea. The Mediterranean in general doesn’t seem to produce fine sand, perhaps because it is a more gentle ocean. The pebbles in Nice however, were the biggest I’d ever seen! I was grateful for the lounger, even if it felt over-indulgent to pay for space on the beach.
It was a relief to be in France and not have it rain on us! I can see how the resort-y nature of Nice appeals to holidaymakers looking for a sunny spot to relax and swim. Personally however, I found that it seemed to lack character and didn’t feel distinctly French. There isn’t too much to see and do there so it’s an ideal spot for a weekend without feeling obliged to visit monuments and attractions. I was most glad for the opportunity to be in the ocean again – no regrets!