The idea of the French riviera often conjures up images of rich aristocrats enjoying sunshine in their backyards in their uber-rich villas, overlooking the Mediterranean. Often, in their rich attire, they may wander into elite clubs, smoking away through their expensive cigars, the troubles of the outside world, playing in rich casinos through the evenings and sauntering into galleries in the afternoons. What does a budget traveller do in this part of the world? In the midst of all the shine and glory, is it possible to find one’s own space and call it theirs?
This coast of France in the gifted region of Provence is blessed with azure blue waters of the Mediterranean, mountains of the Maritime Alps and a lot of culture seeped through centuries from the medieval era, whose villages are well preserved to this day and the coastal fishing villages which retain all their charm and tradition. Nice is one of the largest cities in this area and offers an excellent base for visiting various towns, villages and islands along the riviera.
Nice in itself is a lovely city. There is a lot one could do here since the weather is often so pleasant. During my visit, I took an apartment in the heart of the city. It was a lovely way to relax in the non-pacy city, as I got fresh bread, vegetables and cheese everyday and it was very convenient to walk down to the beach, have a picnic by myself and enjoy the Promenade des Anglais, the lovely stretch of walkway along the sea, an unmissable sight if flying into the airport.
Walking towards the heart of Vieux (old) Nice requires one to cut across Place Massena (an important square near the old town) which is an immediate reminder that the city is alluringly close to Italy. The Venetian architecture, the aroma of fresh sun-kissed tomatoes in some fine pasta, the Italian tongue being spoken quite ubiquitously were easy reminders of the city’s Italian heritage.
Stepping into Vielle Ville or the old part of the town is a transportation to the 16th century. The ochre coloured walls, classy french windows and minimalist decors in cafes are reminders of chic Niçoise elegance. The pedestrianized old part of the city is an absolute delight to walk around, although even in October it has its fair share of tourists. The arterial Cours Saleya, the main street sort of, is the best place to explore the morning market which paints a very pretty sight with wonderful aromatic herbs sending out heavenly smells, natural soaps on sale, fresh cheese, fruits and vegetables being displayed….on Mondays, it is extra special when the antiques market is up. And then there are the baroque churches, the cutesy cobble stoned pathways and just people watching.
For the best views of the city though, one has to walk uphill and then some, to go near the Chateau and the wonderful waterfall passing by a poignant Jewish cemetery. The view of the city from the top is absolutely beautiful. Pastel coloured rooftops and the azure ocean in the backdrop of the sound of waterfall – priceless. If all the hard work is to be rewarded handsomely, don’t forget the dollop of ice cream in the ever-in-demand Fenocchio’s!