Summer on the French Riviera: Best Weekend Getaway to Nice, France

Nice Cote d`Azur

The shimmering azure blue water of the Côte d`Azur has captivated the world for more than a century. Like pearls strung to a chain, the dazzling French Riviera has been a playground for movie stars, celebrities & statesmen whose glamourous life sparked legendary places and the myth of the Côte d Azur. At the turquoise blue angel bay (Baie des Anges) in Nice, it seems like Italian Dolce Vita and French savour vivre are merging. Pastel colours, Mediterranean markets and vibrant harbours have inspired artists and enchanted visitors from around the globe with the pleasing lifestyle of South France. A weekend getaway living the dream of a Summer on the French Riviera!

Summer on the French Riviera

It was past 11 pm when the cab driver dropped me off at the address of my hotel. It was a short drive in the dawn from the airport along the coast to the Nice Garden Hotel in the city center. The small pension was already asleep when I opened the heavy wooden entrance door with my code. In the twilight, the outlines of a neat house with French charm appeared. On a small desk, the key to my room was waiting for me as promised and the breakfast table was already set for the next morning as I sneaked quietly into the spacious “chambre” with beautiful mosaic floor, romantic ceilings embellished with stucco and large shutters, typical in Southern Europe, that revealed the silhouette of a small garden. I opened the large windows and breathed in the air of the night. The screeching of seagulls and the rattle of mopeds filled the darkness and I fell asleep surrendering to my fatigue and the anticipation of the sun to rise in the morning.

The prominent Belle Epoque Hotel Le Negresco at the Promenade d`Anglais, whose pink dome was constructed by Gustave Eiffel. At the atmospheric Bar du Negresco you can admire the historical atmosphere to the rhythm of Jazz, Vinyl  & Live Sessions, while enjoying a monthly cocktail inspired by the season & local events!

The Dream of the Côte d`Azur

The next day, I was woken up by the sounds of breakfast, clinking plates and early morning conversations. I left the Hotel walking down the street towards the horizon of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea heading to The Flower Market elevated with the excitement of a young child`s first day at school. A fresh ocean breeze waved the smell of freshly baked baguettes & croissants and the exuberant life of Southern Europe was blowing jauntily in the wind, intermitted only by the dust of moped gasoline.

There are not many places that can look back to over one and a half century of a glamourous dream. “Le Rêve” of the Côte d`Azur was first born when Stephen Liégeard traveled along the coast from Hyères to Nice in 1886, writing a book about his journey, which he later named “Côte d`Azur”. Painters, writers and all kinds of artists were captivated by the earthly paradise with lush vegetation, pine forests and mountain slopes tumbling into the azure blue ocean like the red mountain chain of the Estérel. The changing soft light renewing the colours of romantic bays, markets & harbours day by day created an inexhaustible source of inspiration and the myth of the French Riviera that is alive to this day! 

“Painters, writers and all kinds of artists were captivated by the earthly paradise with lush vegetation, pine forests and mountain slopes, tumbling into the Azur blue ocean.”

Wealthy British aristocrats desired a paved strip along the beachfront of Nice and financed the famous “Promenade d`Anglais” in the 19th century.

On this sunny Sunday, the Promenade d`Anglais was bustling with morning joggers with eagerness to start the day. I walked on the solid grounds of the splendid terrace feeling light and free in my espadrilles. Pastel rose facades of beautiful ancient villas and their palm trees beamed by the kisses of the sun, luring the first sunbathers & spectators to fill the blue chairs at the seaside promenade. Wealthy British aristocrats had desired a paved strip along the beachfront of Nice in the 19th century and financed the famous 4 mile (7km) long “Promenade d`Anglais”. Today, the pompous Grand Belle Epoque Hotel Le Negresco overlooked the blue ocean like an ancient old witness of glamourous times. Slowly, the the pebble beach and the promenade were becoming one, as beach lounges with retro flair were set up with a view of the ideal blue Mediterranean swimming pool: La Côte d `Azur!

 

 The Flower Market: Mediterranean Flavours at picturesque Cours Saleya

The pleasant climate of the Côte d `Azur has nurtured an earthly paradise, where vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers blossom in the hillside surrounding Nice. At the picturesque Marche aux Fleurs at Cours Saleya, Mediterranean scents of the South of France are concentrated in a blaze of colours. The most splendid market square of Nice, ranked by France’s National Council for the Culinary Arts as being one of the country’s special markets, is actually a combination of different markets: Fruit, vegetable & flower market, but commonly referred to as the “Flower Market”.

The Flower Market was ranked by France’s National Council for the Culinary Arts as being one of the country’s special markets.

The importance of the flower market is rooted back in Nice’s history. In 1897 Nice opened the first wholesale flower market in the world, where growers in the hills would bring down their cut flowers every morning.

Locals and tourists mingled in crowds around fresh fruits, vegetables and fragrant soaps filled the air with paradisiacal aromas of peach, melon and pine. Regional products were patiently waiting in the shade of striped awnings around bustling vendors. The Safran colours of historic house facades surrounding the square reflected beaming lemons and oranges spread out on sales tables in the sunshine. At Palais Caïs de Pierlas the French painter Henri Matisse lived and worked for several years, it is not unlikely that he has drawn inspiration from the painterly atmosphere at Cours Saleya for his vivid artwork and the use of bright colours.

Palais Caïs de Pierlas with its beautiful embellished facade, a historic place where Henri Matisse lived and worked for several years embracing the atmosphere at Cours Saleya

Chez Theresa has become an institution for handing out traditional “Socca”.  The chickpea flatbread which is the most famous local street food is sold by street vendors in Nice for more than 100 years, surprising tourists today how filling a few bites of a snack can be! Poured into a copper pan, the Niçoise specialty is cooked a few streets away in old town and delivered freshly a few times per day by cart and moped, carrying on a century of traditional Niçoise dishes. Like in a rush of senses, I was seduced by the picturesque atmosphere to buy more fresh food than my hands could carry, barely making it to the Angel Bay for a picnic with a bag full of local delights!

“The scents of South France concentrated in a blaze of coloursFragrant soaps and regional produce from local vendors make up the heart of Cours Saleya.”

Monday is the only day, when Marché des Fleurs is closed at Cours Saleya and you can browse through antiques at Marché à la Brocante.

The Angel Bay, Sparkling Gem of Nice

At the ideal blue Mediterranean beach of the angel bay of Nice (Baie des Anges) it seems like Italian “Dolce Vita” and French “savour vivre” are merging in the shimmering azure water. Topless women and men in tight shorts were bathing in the sunshine and refreshing in small waves gently whirled by a mild breeze. Different legends have tried to explain the origins of the name. According to the narrative, at one time the bay of Nice had so many angel sharks that when fishermen saw these winged sea creatures they resembled angels swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Another legend centers around the patron of Nice Saint Reparata, a Palestinian teen and catholic martyr, whose dead body was laid in a boat and blown by the breath of angels to the “Baie des Anges” in Nice where it arrived unmarked and was declared a miracle.

West of Nice, the glamour of Cannes lures with its promenade de la Croisette and the flash light of red carpets at the Cannes Film Fest. Towards the neighbouring Italian coastline, Monaco exemplifies the pride of the Cote d`Azur.  The small city state succeeded in transforming the limited surface area into its most valuable asset creating a Mecca for the world`s wealthy, where one in 3 residents are Millionaires, making up a density of one third of the population. Ever since, the glitz of the city-state captivates the world with its royal Grimaldi family, annual Monaco Grand Prix and the famous Monte Carlo casino whose astronomical sums are peaking superlatives.

Playground of the rich & beautiful: The Myth of the Côte d`Azur

“Le rêve” of the Côte d`Azur would have always stayed a dream without the people and their stories to tell. Beyond the poetry of the landscape, legendary places & personalities created the myth of the French RivieraIn 1888 Guy de Maupassant wrote his acclaimed travel diary “Afloat” sailing from Antibes to St. Tropez. Cannes had already become a city of titles and lords with “crowns of all sorts” flaunting at the promenade de la Croisette. It was the pleasing climate & sunshine that lured as a winter residence for the wealthy of Europe. In the 1920s, British Aristocrats & American industrials established Belle Epoque Hotels and mansions in the slopes of Cap Ferrat with paradisiacal gardens, like Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. In the following years, the Côte d`Azur became a playground for the high life the intellectual elite.

“Le rêve” would have stayed a dream without the people and their stories to tell.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway brought jazz & a new art of living, also the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and his wife Françoise Gillot indulged in the golden sunshine of summer holidays at the Côte d`Azur. Paul Signac found his creative haven at the French Riviera, followed by Neo-impressionists Matisse, Renoir and Marc Chagall. In 1947 the first Cannes film Festival opened the doors to an era of cinema & glamour. The international jet set, actors movie stars, celebrities, statesmen and monarchs, flocked to the South of France, whose stunning coastline received cult status in Alfred Hitchcock`s film “To catch a thief” starring Grace Kelly. No personality whose picture was not taken at Europe`s new hot spot, above all French actress Brigitte Bardot sparked the myth of RIVIERA SUMMERS, which after the introduction of paid holidays 1936 in France now belonged to everyone!

“The Neo-Impresionists didn’t want to imitate reality, they wanted to create the beautiful” of which they found plenty at the Côte d `Azur. Paul Signac found his creative haven at the French Riviera, like Neo-impressionists Matisse, Renoir, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.  (Lower images from Paintings Daily Instagram, painting left by Paul Signac “Capo di Noli” (1898) “Sunny Day at the French Riviera” by Gaston Hoffmann)

“Port de Nice” and The Tradition of the Midday Cannon

Each year, Nice is a magnet for around 5 million visitors. People from all over the world are captivated by the charm of the vibrant Mediterranean coast. At the harbour of Nice, sleek millionaire yachts are polished whose superlatives are brought to shine for the next summer holiday. In spite of the opulence, small colourful boats were dancing in the port. Richie and a friend, whose sun tanned, wrinkled skin, revealed hours of sea & sun, sanded and repainted wooden boats, with neat signs reading names like “Lola” and “Nice”. He explained to me that the baptised names could only be changed if (after I bought the small boat for around 15 000 Euros) I had the official permission, I guess bureaucracy doesn’t make halt at the South of France when it comes to the cultural importance of maritime heritage.

Somewhere on a schoolyard, I heard the lively noise of kids playing. At noon I cringed in a shock when I heard the shot of a loud cannon blasting the idyll of everyday life. The kids noise kept bubbling unimpressed. As I later learned the shot was a tradition that a wealth ex-British army officer initiated in 1861 for his wife, who was late coming home for lunch as usual. As a reminder to be at the table at noon he provided the cannon at his own expense and installed it on the lower terrace of the château. The locals got used so much to the unusual custom that it was maintained until today. So, the midday cannon still occurs every day at precisely 12.00 in Nice, surprising tourists and reminding locals not to miss daily lunch dates.

Café du Cycliste

Culinary Nice: A sweet Garden of Eden

Right at the harbour bikers walked in and out for a caffeine and energy bar stop at Cafe du Cycliste. The young barista behind the bar of the modern cafe wrote me a small note with local tips while I was drinking an espresso facing the port & swaying ships. Upon his recommendation, I paid a visit to Marché de la Libération at Place du Général de Gaulle. The scenery was not as picturesque as at Cours Saleya, but the atmosphere felt authentic & original. The rich variety of local vendors revealed the culinary paradise of Southern France: Fleurs de Courgettes, zucchini blossoms that locals like to fry or fill for regional dishes, artichokes and even fresh fish were handed over the counter. 

Once again, I came home with bags full of Mediterranean delights. Like in a Garden of Eden, oranges were growing from a tree in the beautiful small garden in the courtyard of the hotel. I enjoyed a fresh seafood salad from the market in the sunshine, ranked by wisteria that bloomed around the window shutter in shades of lavender. I squeezed ripe lemons, dipped fresh baguette from the bakery in aromatic olive oil and cheered with a glass of rose to the sweetness of life.

“Like in a Garden of Eden, I cheered to the sweetness of life.”

The beautiful garden in the courtyard of Nice Garden Hotel invites for a lunch with fresh food from local markets like Marché de la Libération.

At Place Massena, Fontaine du Soleil and its supernatural God Apollo embellishes the architectural gem of Nice, connecting old and new town with its 5 bronze statues symbolizing the planets earth, saturn, mars, venus, mercury. Pompeii red buildings set on a geometrical ground, epitomize the picturesqueness of Southern European squares, where bubbly school classes bring Italian sounds.

Cuisine Niçoise in the atmospheric streets of Old Town

In the narrow alleys of the old town, ancient house facades blink through cooling shutters, while fresh fish and socca (a chickpea flatbread) sizzle in hot pots in the kitchens. For many years, Nice indirectly belonged to Italy as part of the House of Savoy cultivating its own language and customs, before it became French in 1860. In the regional cuisine Nicoise the influence of Italian culture becomes palpable. Pissaladière is paying homage to the close entanglement with its neighbours: The Pizza of the Côte d` Azur is garnished with with onion compote (Pissalat), anchovies, black olives and Mediterranean herbs.

Cathédrale Sainte Réparate in the Old Town of Nice is honouring the patron saint of the city.

“Pissaladière, the Pizza of the Côte d`Azur is garnished with onions, anchovies, black olives and Mediterranean herbs “

Pissaladière

Fresh oregano, thyme & basil or aromatic olive oil from the back country are key ingredients for local dishes like Salade Niçoise. The regional salad made of fresh tomatoes, green paprika, tuna fish, eggs, anchovies, basil, is seasoned with only a few drops of olive oil. Pan bagnata Nice-style sandwich with tuna and local vegetables, which was originally the food of fishermen and workers leaving their homes early in the morning, is now commonly enjoyed as a well-filled bread for a picnic at the beach.

Chez Acchiardo in Nice Old Town is a family owned restaurant since 1927 loved for their authentic cuisine Niçoise. Reservations are highly recommended!

Salade Niçoise
Salade Niçoise

When the clock hits dinner time, restaurants in old town are packed, tourists and locals are strolling through the slender streets of colourful ancient houses  spending pleasant shade in the summertime. The choice of good restaurants in Nice is overwhelming, I was delighted by delicious food no matter the choice of  location. Chez Acchiardo, a rustic, family owned restaurant located in old town, buzzed as I enjoyed a delicious fish dinner at a cozy bistro table in the atmospheric street. British elderly women arrived by bike taxi and I watched people lining up outside for the authentic kitchen that has officially been certified by the “Cuisine Nissarde” label – and apparently spread word beyond the historic old town of Nice!

I have discovered happiness. Enough material to work for an entire lifetime.

(P. Signac)

The magical view from Colline du Château over the “Angel Bay”.

At the castle of Nice (Colline du Château), the beautiful panorama of the angel bay captivates the entire magic of the blue sky illuminating the azure Sea and pastel colours of the city. When the beaches get too crowded, natives head for the mountains. On my way to the airport, the cab driver gushed about beautiful medieval villages, like the city of perfume “Grasse” hiding in the hillside of Nice and passionately explained the paradox of blue ocean and snow covered white mountains granted to the privilege of the region Alpes-Maritimes.

As the airplane was taking off, we were sailing above the Angel Bay that appeared more and more distant. I looked down at the shimmering turquoise water that sparked the dream of the Côte d`Azur. When Paul Signac discovered the French Riviera, he wrote to his mother a letter in delight “I have discovered happiness. Enough material to work for an entire lifetime.” À bientôt beautiful Nice!

Hotel Tip

The Nice Garden Hotel is a beautiful small family-owned hotel within walking distance from the beach and 10-15 min to the historic Flower Market. A small garden and the welcoming owner Marion and her friendly staff will make you feel like at home! Rates for a double room start at 75 Euro.

Transportation

The airport in Nice is located only a few minutes away from the city centre. You can walk to many attractions in the old or new town. I recommend if you need transportation, make use of uber, lift or public transportation.

Restaurants

Chez Acchiardo (Traditional cuisine Niçoise) 38 Rue Droite, 06300 Nice

Peixes (Fish) 4 Rue de l’Opéra, 06300 Nice

Breakfast

Marinette Kitchen (Coffee with bakery) 13 Rue Colonna d’Istria, 06300 Nice

Lunch

Rustik (Small Argentinian eatery) 27 Boulevard Stalingrad, 06300 Nice

Dinner

Le Local (Italian) 4 Rue Rusca, 06300 Nice

Les Agitateurs (Modern French) 24 Rue Bonaparte, 06300 Nice

Le Goupil 21 Rue Barla, 06300 Nice

Comptoir du Marchè (French Restaurant) 8 Rue du Marché, 06000 Nice