After just a few years absence, I was longing to return to Nice, France. I have always loved the festive atmosphere in Nice, no matter the season. Our last visit to Nice for a conference was in March and the city seemed fresh and ready for summer, which was right around the corner. This time we visited in early September and summer was not ready to give way to fall. The days were comfortably hot and the nights were warm…just perfect for outdoor dining.
The afternoon we arrived, we wandered the streets of old town and took in the markets and the intriguing shops. Place Massena is vast and lovely by day, but at night it simply glows. For dinner we had moules and frites at one of the several “Mouleries” in the city.
The next day we took the Nice Grand Tour, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, that brought us past the old port and into the hills overlooking Nice. We were very impressed by the Marc Chagall Museum, the former home of Matisse and the Saint Nicolas Russian Cathedral, which is listed among the historical monuments. This is the most important Orthodox Church outside Russia and it is stunningly beautiful from the outside. Unfortunately for us, it was closed, so we missed seeing the interior. The Grand Tour provides tourists with a quick overview of the city and is a very worthwhile use of time.
Another great thing about Nice is that there are several free beaches (unlike Cannes where we found only one free public beach.) On hot summer days, a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean is just what the doctor ordered. Our son, John, and daughter-in-law, Paula, enjoyed swimming every day and particularly liked the rocky, elevated positions at the east end of the Promanade de Anglais. It was perfect for diving (Remember, this is free-spirited France, so expect to see topless bathers).
One day we drove to St. Paul de Vence, one of my favorite towns on the French Riviera. It is an exquisite, perched village with whimsically paved lanes, and the old town is totally pedestrianized, making for leisurely strolls past the myriad of art galleries and touristy shops. Yes, St Paul de Vence is touristy, but it is so lovely I don’t mind at all. We had lunch at one of the many restaurants that feature spectacular views of the countryside and we dutifully posed for pictures at the ancient fountain.
Once we had fully explored the shops and boutiques of St. Paul de Vence, we walked just a few short blocks from the old town to the Fondation Maeght, an out-door / in-door modern art museum. Even if modern art is not your thing, I think you will appreciate the natural setting and the extraordinary tranquility of the surroundings as well as the panoramic views. We were there for the Eduardo Chillida exhibit that follows his career as a Sculptor and blacksmith. At Fondation Maeght, you will find art works by Braque, Calder, Chagall, Giacometti, Léger, Miró and more.
On our second night, we dined at Chez Juliette. We were too late to get an outdoor table, so we ate in the plushly decorated inside dining room. We paid 17 Euros for a Prix Fixe menu and had several entrees to choose from. We were all pleased with our choices. Paula and I ordered the stuffed vegetables, which were heavenly, and the guys ordered a sumptuous chicken dish. We found a reasonably-priced bottle of wine to share and had a wonderful evening. Put Chez Juliette on your must-do list.
Where to Stay in Nice
We stayed at the 3-Star Mercure Marche aux Fleurs in the old town. This reasonably priced hotel is located right on the Promenade de Anglais and just steps from the Marche aux Fleurs on the Cours Salaya. We were in a spacious (for France standards) double room… no view but nice and quiet. John and Paula’s room was a duplex, so their sleeping area was situated above a small sitting area. The steps to the sleeping area were steep so we do not recommend a duplex room for anyone who might need to use the bathroom during the night or has stability issues. We really liked the hotel and the friendly staff, but please note that there is no lift. The desk clerk is happy to help with luggage, but remember that you’ll be going up and down stairs a lot during your stay.
The last time we were in Nice we stayed at the 4-star Hotel Le Grimaldi. This hotel is located in the center of Nice and walking distance to just about everything. We liked the friendliness of the staff and the Provence style room we had was quite spacious. I really think the Le Grimaldi is a great place to stay in Nice and think they offer some great specials.
Written by Terri Fogarty and Photos by Bill Fogarty for EuropeUpClose.com