February 28, 2012
We walked just three small blocks from the bus stop to the address of our apartment where we were met by Nancy, a representative of Nice Pebbles. She provided us with keys, a book detailing operation of all equipment, even small appliances, a ton of brochures and bus schedules, and a welcome basket including our first bottle of wine from the Provence region of France.
Old Nice. Click image to enlarge
Nancy showed us how all the electronics worked, talked about our plans and gave us lots of suggestions on how to spend our time, where to go and what to see. She was our contact throughout our stay and just a text message away for anything we needed to know. As well, the Nice Pebbles rental office was located just two blocks from our apartment and staffed with knowledgeable, English-speaking people.
We spent our first afternoon exploring our neighborhood, locating the grocery store and wine store and buying a few provisions. But after that we rarely saw the inside of our apartment between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm.
On our second day we ventured further afield, discovering the narrow streets and shops of Old Nice, finding fresh pasta, a butcher shop and a much better wine store. We walked along the Cours Saleya with its daily flower market, stopping to buy fresh produce and a bouquet. The Cours Saleya is lined with restaurants, but beware, prices here are expensive. Expect to pay €4 for a small coffee, where the same cup will cost less than €2 elsewhere.
Old Nice is built on the side of a hill and the narrow streets, fairly flat at first, soon give way to steep inclines and stairs leading to the Colline du Chateau, a hill top park that was once the site of a fortress. From here you can see spectacular views of Nice on one side and the port on the other.
Saint Paul de Vence. Click image to enlarge
Our third day we rode the bus – cost €1 per trip for any distance – to Cannes where we shopped on Rue d’Antibes for bargains (January is one of two government mandated retail sale months in France) and gazed through the windows of the designer stores on Boulevard de la Croisette. We walked up the narrow streets of the old town of Cannes, stopping for a coffee along the way, to the fortified tower and Chapel of St. Anne, which provides an excellent 360 degree view of Cannes. We ate lunch outside at a cafe and relaxed for an hour on a bench on the promenade watching the people passing by.
Another Euro each took us to Monaco, less than half an hour away by bus. From the bus stop in front of the harbor we first walked up the steep hill to Monaco-Ville, home of the Prince of Monaco’s palace, Saint Nicholas Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum, where we spent several hours. The Oceanographic Museum is a must see for visitors to Monaco as are the casinos and the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo.
We spent two days exploring the medieval villages of Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Èze, both walled towns built precariously on hill tops on either side of Nice. Saint-Paul-de-Vence was home to the artist Marc Chagall and you will find many small art galleries there. A very famous restaurant, La Colombe d’Or could be mistaken for an art gallery as well. During prime season, reservations are recommended one month to six weeks in advance, but on the day we visited in January, one could walk in off the street.
Eze viewed from below on the Chemin de Nietzsche. Click image to enlarge
The writer and philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, lived in Èze-sur-Mer, a small town mid-way between Monaco and Nice and would frequently climb up the 450 metre high hill behind the town to visit the medieval village of Èze. The old walled town has become a museum village and though it offers spectacular views of the Mediterranean, access to view points is controlled and available for a price (a cup of coffee or an admission fee). Nietzsche wouldn’t have had that problem when he walked up the path that today bears his name. We chose to walk down the path, a rough winding route that took over an hour to complete. It is good exercise and the views are incredible. At the end of the path we found a restaurant, where we stopped for lunch, close by the bus stop to Nice and the train station.
During our eight days in and around Nice we walked everywhere, one goal being to get as much exercise as possible. Nice is a pedestrian-friendly city with many streets and squares and whole sections of Old Nice off limits to motorized traffic – even scooters. As well Nice is fronted by the Promenade des Anglais, a “boardwalk” that stretches more than five kilometres from the Colline du Chateau to Nice Cote d’Azur airport.
Walking to Old Nice to purchase food for the day became a morning ritual, after which we would get on the bus or walk to the places we wanted to visit.
With normal temperatures ranging from a low of three to 12 degrees Celsius, you won’t see anyone swimming in the sea, but our week was sunny with daily highs near 16 degrees, perfect for walking and exploring.
You will need a sweater and spring jacket when visiting the Cote d’Azur in the off-season, but visitors who choose this time of year will enjoy comfortable weather, avoid the summer tourist crowds and save money too.