February 28, 2012
Le Vieux Port in Nice, viewed from La Colline du Chateau. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Grant Yoxon
Nice on a budget
Nice, France – If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the French Riviera is money, well, there is lots of that. The wealth in the Cote d’Azur is obvious – it is evident in the pricey condos and hotels that front the Mediterranean in Nice, in the S Class Mercedes, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys parked outside the casinos in Monte Carlo and in the fashionable dress of the strollers on the promenade in Cannes. But if you think you need to be as rich as a middle eastern oil sheik to holiday on the Cote d’Azur, guess again.
My spouse and I recently enjoyed nine days in Nice at a price we could afford, or in other words, as cheaply as we could get it. That meant booking cheap flights, finding inexpensive accommodation, and saving big time on local travel, food and other expenses.
Getting there from most cities in Canada is relatively easy. Many cities – Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, for example – all have direct overnight flights to Frankfurt. From there it is a short hop to Nice and a holiday that begins at 10:00 in the morning.
View from Eze. Click image to enlarge
By traveling in January, perhaps the slowest month of the off season for travel to this region, we saved lots.
Be flexible and pick your days to travel and you can get a return ticket on Air Canada for less than $900 (Ottawa to Nice return), all taxes and charges in. This is as affordable as it can get with base prices (excluding taxes, etc.) of just $185 over and $140 on the return. Some people couldn’t drive their SUV from Montreal to Toronto for $140!
A wide range of apartments available in any of the cities on the Cote d’Azur offer a reasonably priced alternative to hotels and allow you to save big time by buying your own food and cooking in your suite. Through an agency we found online, we located and rented a one bedroom apartment in the center of Nice, just a few minutes by foot from the beach front and promenade, the Old Nice and the large shopping and entertainment districts nearby.
We found our apartment through Nice Pebbles (www.nicepebbles.com), a Nice-based real estate agency. But other good places to start your search should include Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com) and HomeAway (www.homeaway.com).
The apartment was located in a secure courtyard hidden behind the facade of a building on one of Nice’s busier downtown streets. But inside the courtyard, the sound of traffic disappeared entirely. Outside the ground level apartment was a small table and two chairs, perfect for a glass of wine before dinner, and an orange tree growing in a large pot. The little tree was loaded with ripe oranges falling off its branches and provided us with fresh fruit every morning during our stay.
The apartment in central Nice, rented online. Click image to enlarge
While the buildings around us were older and well worn, the apartment was thoroughly modern and equipped with everything we needed for our stay – a full kitchen with fridge, stove and dishwasher, cable TV, internet access, security blinds on all the doors and windows and modern bathroom fixtures. Cost: €570, or about $745 for nine days.
Upon our arrival at Nice airport, we stopped by the visitor centre and loaded up with brochures, maps and schedules, as well as some good advice from the centre’s guide. Next we visited the bus station office and purchased tickets to downtown Nice. The cost from the airport is just €4 or about $5.75, and the bus is a quick and easy way to get downtown, but you need never spend that much again on transportation.
Forget about a car (I know, this is a car magazine) because you don’t need it. Public transportation is so good that everywhere you will want to go to is easily accessible by bus and train. Nice is one of the most congested – though beautiful – cities I’ve visited and parking is at a premium. The entire area we visited, from Monaco in the east to Cannes in the west, is urban and densely populated. Nice itself is quite small, yet it is the fifth largest city in France. If you insist on driving yourself, you will add significantly to your costs for accommodation and transportation as well as the aggravation you will have to endure.
Bentley parked near the palace in Monaco-Ville. Click image to enlarge
Spend the riding time, as I did, spotting European makes and models and keeping my eyes open for some really interesting, and expensive, machinery. North Americans will rarely see Peugeot, Citroen and Renault. But even manufacturers we are familiar with produce cars for the European market we have never heard of or seen.
Keep your eyes open and you will see the old and the unusual. Or catch a glimpse of a Ferrari, Rolls-Royce or Bugatti.
Although I like to drive and had just spent two days driving the new Volkswagen CC up and down the hills behind Nice, I soon realized that a car would be a major hassle and an unnecessary expense. And in the end, I didn’t miss it.