Nice, the capital of the Cote d'Azur, is perhaps the most visited city along the Mediterranean, and stays busy year around. Thanks to the many festivals, exhibitions, expositions and the traditional carnival, Nice has grown into the modern, bustling city it is today. I can't imagine not being 'smitten' with this beautiful place and its spectacular surroundings. Take a walk along the renowned 'Promenade des Anglais', and you'll know what I mean. A melting pot for visitors from around the globe, this elegant palm-lined street follows the beach along the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels). Across the street, an endless string of fancy hotels, restaurants and chic shops seems to go on for miles.
Perhaps the best known building along this strip, and certainly the most spectacular, is the Hotel Negresco. Built in 1912 and always catering to those with money, it's an architectural marvel, elaborate to say the least with wonderful details. But don't expect to be able to catch a glimpse of the interior unless you have a reservation. The entrance is well guarded and sneaking in is virtually impossible (although we tried!). Another well known building is the Ruhl Casino, home of the high rollers! The Hotel Meridien is part of the grand structure which also houses a top notch restaurant and a Cabaret, featuring lively shows (a la Moulin Rouge!) and concerts.
The beach in Nice, although a wide crescent shape and picturesque, can be a disappointment if you are not prepared for the fact that it's not sandy. Instead, you'll find smooth pebbles and rocks, but regardless, by mid-day it will be packed! Entrepreneurs capitalize on the fact that you'll need a lounge chair to sun bathe comfortably, and they can be rented everywhere, along with colorful umbrellas. Prices vary from place to place, depending whether or not you choose an area with wooden decking built over the rocks, or whether or not you want to include a lunch. Numerous small restaurants line the beach, inviting you to sit down, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view of the Baie des Anges or just, well, people watch!!
The sea is crystal clear and blue, gentle waves roll the small pebbles back and forth, creating a unique sound. Swimming and sun bathing is a favorite activity here and even away from the beach, you can hardly find a spot, rock outcropping, or cove, without people having claimed it for the day. In sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Promenade, visiting the old part of Nice is like stepping back in time. The buildings along the narrow streets date back to the 17th century, small alleyways are lined with little shops selling local merchandise, and outdoor cafes are to be found everywhere. In fact, this is where I had the best pizza ever, smothered with four cheeses, a true culinary delight!
The Flower Market here shouldn't be missed. Not only can you admire stand after stand with the most beautiful and colorful arrays of flowers and plants, but you'll find an abundance of fresh produce (vegies, marvelous fruits, olives, etc.), meats, fish, cheeses and baked goods. Your taste buds will be tempted beyond imagination, you can even sample some of the delectable goods and I can guarantee that you won't leave empty handed! A popular stop for tourists is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral with its spectacular five domes and colorful exterior. It's quite beautiful, unfortunately the interior was closed at the time of our visit. On a plateau, 300 feet above Nice, are the remains of an old fortress. Now a park, this area is perfect for an excellent overview of Nice, the beach and the Bay. You can reach it by a series of steps at the end of the Promenade, or by elevator just below the steps. A huge man-made waterfall cascades down from the top, and you can stroll through the beautiful Castle gardens or visit the Naval Museum. Nice boasts a number of excellent art museums, such as the Musee Cheret and the Musee National de Marc Chagall, displaying works of four centuries of European art.
We arrived in Nice by cruise ship and docked in the colorful 'Port Lympia' (port of the clear water), one of the prettiest ports in the Mediterranean. If you are energetic, you can walk from here to the Promenade des Anglais and even to the old town. But no visit to Nice would be complete without exploring the surroundings. If you don't have a lot of time, you might want to consider the short drive to the isolated, medieval village of Eze, which clings like an eagle's nest to the top of a rock, 1400 feet above the sea. Take the Middle Corniche Road to get there, on the way marvel at the gorgeous villas built into the hills, the beautiful flowers and gardens, and at virtually every turn, the magnificent view of the Bay below.