Cool Weekend Getaways: Nice, France
The French Riviera, a destination for the rich and famous. It is also a home for Hollywood royalty that became real royalty. Also, the French Riviera invites the world of Hollywood to Cannes every spring for its film festivals. There's something about this area just in the South of France that brought Princess Grace Kelly and stars like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to its shores. Consider the many cities that line the French Riviera, locally called "Côte d’Azur" -- the most prominent that come to mind are Saint-Tropez, Antibes, Cannes, the city-state of Monaco and the largest city of the region, Nice. And it is Nice that is the hub of the Côte d’Azur -- there you will find the third largest airport in France, the busiest rail station of the area and of course, a beautiful beach.
Nice will most likely be a traveler’s first stop to the French Riviera as commuter jets coming from the big cities and rail lines all find their way there. It is also the fifth largest city in France just behind Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Toulouse. It is home to Nicoise cuisine and it is a destination for many non-French visitors (mostly English) to come on holiday. The English influence in the city of Nice is stressed through the naming of the famous boardwalk, “Le Promenade des Anglais”, which translates to Promenade of the English. In the 18th centuries, English aristocrats and upper-class citizens often escaped the bitterly cold British winter to spend the season in the much warmer Nice.
Best Time to Visit
Many English as well the rest of Britain’s tourists still come to Nice during the winter as the weather in the French Riviera is still much warmer in the winter. The Spring season from January to April is the quiet season for Nice, but come May to September, the rest of the world arrives at Nice for the hot and crowded summer. In the month of May, the whole Côte d’Azur is up in arms for two events. Though these events do not occur in the city of Nice, plenty of visitors flow through the city and spend a little time enjoying its sites. The Cannes Film Festival is the premiere film event on the French calendar, where worldwide movie stars and directors come to share their latest works. On the other end of the Côte is Monaco, where the Monaco Grand Prix takes place at the end of the month. World-class drivers take on the well-renowned course in some of Formula 1’s best street racing.
If you are looking for local foods to eat, you will learn of the Nicoise way. Parisian and Lyonnaise cooking are both well regarded for being hearty and thick, as exemplified by their soups and meat dishes. The Nicoise style brings the Mediterranean influence, as the cuisine is light and crisp in weight and balance. You will find a lot of seafood in many menus but surprisingly, you will find pasta. In a special way, Nicoise cuisine resembles both Italian and Sicilian cuisine. One cannot roam the streets of Nice nor can walk the Promenade without experiencing Socca -- this is city’s ultimate street food. It goes with almost everything -- sweet, savory or sour. It is basically a flatbread made of chickpea flour that can be flavored with herbs and spices. It can be made for you in a matter of seconds and it is the perfect food on the go.
As with the normal beach cities around the world, you have normal activities such as walking along the beach, riding scooters, sailing, snorkeling but there’s a small city, or rather principality nearby that has a little more action. It is Monaco, more specifically, Monte Carlo -- and there you will find their famous casino. Unlike most Vegas casinos, the casino has a dress code and an entrance fee. Gentlemen require coats and women should dress in dinner formal attire. For those who are not Brad Pitt in front of the camera or Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel, Nice has plenty of sights, sounds, and cuisine that are friendly to the budget traveler. Most rail travelers will arrive in Nice-Ville station via the TSV. While air travelers will arrive at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. From there, most hotels are relatively close to the shoreline. Budget hotels can be found within a one-mile walking distance to the Promenade des Anglais.
The moment you arrive in Nice, you’ll figure out that the city and the whole area is not the conventional French city you see in television and movies. It’s the antithesis of the Parisian life we see in movies like Bande à Part, Charade, and Amelie. Nice and the rest of the Côte d’Azur represents the jet-setting yet easy going Mediterranean life that can go from simple to extravagant in a manner of minutes.