Tuesday was our first full day in Nice. The day’s agenda was full of sight seeing, but the sea (which was just across the Promenade from our apartment) was calling our names, so we started out with a swim in the Mediterranean!
Our apartment very conveniently had some bamboo beach mats (they are great for the pebbly beach–a beach towel is no good to sit on) but when we got down to the beach, we realized that we were missing a crucial wardrobe requirement for the beaches of Nice…protective footwear! Everyone around us had various types of swim shoes…and I’m sure the natives can spot a group of bare foot newbies from a mile away. We very painfully hobbled our way down to the water and got in. It’s very shallow at the shore but then drops off into deep water very quickly! But at least it’s not painful when your feet can’t touch the rocks! So, we added an item to the day’s agenda: get swimming shoes!
After cooling off in the sea, we got dressed and walked down the Promenade des Anglais to the Old Town, or Vieille Ville (which is also Tourist Central). We passed by the famous Hotel Negresco, still glimmering and elegant at 103 years old!
The Hotel Negresco is one the most famous hotels in France, but it is only one of many fanciful buildings of the Belle Époque era that you find all over Nice. From the late 1800’s up until 1914 (and the start of World War I), Nice was the winter playground to royalty and the wealthy from England and all over Europe.
Prior to exploring the Old Town, we stopped for lunch at Di Piu which was very busy with business men/women having lunch (more locals than tourists is always a good thing). It was a bit pricey for lunch, and we probably could have found a more authentic restaurant in the Vieille Ville, but it was very hot and we had just walked a good 30 minutes down the Promenade des Anglais.
Super Quick History Lesson: Although French is the language spoken in Nice, if you judged by restaurant menus and the ambiance of the Old Town, you would swear you were in Italy! But there is a very good reason for this….up until 1860, Nice was ruled by Independent Italian States, most notably the Duchy of Savoy…and Nice sits only about 26 miles from the Italian border.
History lesson aside, we had a really delicious lunch! Josette couldn’t resist trying a Salade niçoise while in Nice, and I had spaghetti with fruits de Mer (very good).
With full bellies and re-hydrated bodies, we began our exploration of the Old Town. As I stated before, I kept having to remind myself that I was in France, and not Italy.
We stopped at a little store called Cure Gourmande, where they offered us an apricot biscuit which was really quite delicious. Although the company has only been around since 1989, they package and present everything with a vintage look. We were suckers for everything and ended up with a tin full of biscuits. They also had “olives” that were actually chocolates…and of course we had to get some of those as well.
When we are shopping on our travels to Europe, we have to always keep in mind how we are getting the purchase home. Will it fit? Will it weigh too much? Will it melt? Will it get crushed/bent/ruined? And do we really need it? Most of the time, you can justify the last question…and much of what we buy are actually little gifts for family…so in that case, of course we need it! But you should always think about getting your purchase home before inserting that credit card.
With a full shopping bag, we continued on, arriving at the Basilique-Cathédrale Sainte-Marie et Sainte-Réparate de Nice, or Nice’s cathedral. This very baroque church (and not to beat a dead horse, but very reminiscant of church interiors we saw last year in Italy) was built from 1650 to about 1700.
Baroque churches are always a feast for the eyes. Lots of over the top gilded decoration, stones of many colors and textures, cherubs, twisting columns, frescos on the ceiling…literally not a square inch absent of something! In the case of Baroque, more is more. Unbeknownst to us, we made a considerable donation before leaving the cathedral. After we had left and continued our tour of the Old Town, Josette suddenly shouted “THE BAG!”. She had sat our bag of edible delights on a pew and left without it! I thought that of all places, our bag would surely be safe in a church! Probably some other tourist found the bag and handed it to a little old Nun, who would keep it safe until we returned. So, we quickly retraced our steps through the dark narrow alleys and arrived at the Cathedral…and there on the old pew… was absolutely nothing. The bag was gone. We tried to ask the custodian if anyone had turned it in….but he didn’t understand and just shooed us away. Lesson learned. Don’t leave your stuff…not even in a church! All that I know is that it was someone’s lucky day…and I’m sure they thoroughly enjoyed those delicious biscuits and chocolates!
While shopping, we spotted those swim shoes that were on the agenda for the day. I thought 10 Euros for each pair was a bit high for such ugly footwear, but the pebbly beach and bare feet just don’t go well together….so we bought them anyway. Josette’s were more like jelly shoes and she thought more fashionable (I thought not) and Lena and I got the black ones that really don’t look good on anyone.
We were a little bummed about the stolen bag incident, but it was our own fault…and at least it wasn’t my wallet, or my phone…or our passports. Besides, I already knew in my mind that we were going back to La Cure Gourmande and buy everything again! I really liked those biscuits!
Next up, and I literally mean “up”, was a hike up to the Parc du Chateau (or the Castle Park). The highest and oldest part of Nice, the Park also has amazing views of Nice, a gorgeous water fall, cemeteries of different religions, playgrounds, a snack bar and the remains of the old Chateau de Nice (the old fortification).
Normally, we don’t mind climbing. We climb bell towers and old castles…but this particular day was extremely hot and my lovely wife had gone on and on about an elevator that can whisk you right up to the top of the hill. We were unable to find said elevator, so we climbed the 300 feet of steps up the hill, sweating and panting all the way. But the views were magnificent and as we stood in front of the waterfall, a lovely breeze brought us a much needed cool mist! We let Lena get a little energy out at the playground and had a few waters at the snack bar. We also found signs leading us the elevator…which we happily took back down to the bottom.
After a very long, hot day, all we wanted to do was to cool off in the sea. We decided to keep dinner very simple, so we stopped by a boulangerie and picked up a few different baguette sandwiches for later. We threw on our bathing suits, grabbed our bamboo mats and donned our incredibly ugly but very helpful swim shoes and headed to the beach!
Tomorrow we go on a private, architectural tour of a villa and then we want to try and get up to Eze. Until then…