the French Riviera


15 years ago, before blogs existed, I built a website and named it France Focus.  And for this website I wrote a travel piece on Nice, one of my favourite cities at the time.  While rummaging around in my old computer the other day, I came across the Nice piece.  Still relevant, here it is below –


NICE, a multitude of pleasures

I don’t know who said living well is the best revenge, but as I savoured a mouthful of succulent grilled fish served on a bed of roasted vegetables and washed it down with a swirl of chilled Puligny-Montrachet ’93, I felt inclined to agree with this maxim. I was lunching on the beach in Nice where only the French can turn this otherwise commonplace act into a sybaritic event.

Ahhh, the Côte d’Azur in early June….(July and August are to be avoided. May, early-June, September and October are the best months.) The obliging waiter removed my empty plate and brought me a crème caramel for dessert, a tiny cup of steaming espresso at its side. I surveyed the turquoise sea that gently lapped twenty yards from my table. The sun shone from an azure sky, white parasols fluttered in the gentle breeze and I peered across the Mediterranean for a glimpse of North Africa beyond……all was right with the world.

After lunch, I strolled over to my rented lounge chair – which can cost anywhere from 20 to 40 euros for the day, depending on what private beach you’re on – and flopped down with the intention of burying into a good novel, but somehow those tantalizing waters, rippling and sparkling in the sun, stole my attention away. After an hour or two of utter relaxation lying inert on a thick, white-towelled mattress, I ran to the sea and plunged into its cool, therapeutic waters.

I like the Sofitel Splendid Hotel because of its central location, comfort, and stunning rooftop terrace, a perfect place to enjoy cocktails during aperitif hour, or l’heure de l’apéritif, as the French say. The whole of Nice is spread out below from sea to mountains behind. As twilight descends, the panoramic view becomes bathed in a blue haze signalling that it’s time to descend into the streets and find a good restaurant for dinner.  There’s a small pool on the roof of this hotel.  When my sister and I  were teenagers we used to race in it (while my parents sat further away and sipped cocktails.)   The pool’s still there and completely unchanged…here it is. 


Eclectic, elegant and extraordinary is how I would describe the Windsor Hotel located in the middle of town. Its 60 rooms are decorated with murals or designed individually by modern artists. There’s a lush, tropical, enclosed garden with small swimming pool where you can have your meals, a lounge bar with open fireplace, gym and sauna.  Links to both hotels are at bottom of page.

hotel windsor nice

La Trattoria, located at 37 rue de France at the corner of rue Dalpozzo is a cheerful, casual restaurant serving up large pizzas cooked in an open oven, pasta dishes, seafood, big salads, steaks. Sit on the outdoor terrace or in the spacious, rustic interior.  Nice abounds with pizzerias.  There’s a huge Italian influence in this city.

Old town of Nice:


Plunge into the ancient, twisting, bustling streets of the old quarter and drink in the intoxicating atmosphere of this exuberant, southern French city. This is where I spend most of my time wandering happily, getting lost in the maze of ruelles and stopping frequently for an ice-cream, glass of chilled rosé, lunch or espresso, depending on the time of day.

Great lunch spot:

Lou Pilha Leva, 10 rue du Collet on Place Centrale

Stand in line and place your order through a window then carry it to one of the large wooden tables outside. Taste the local specialties – socca (a thin, chick-pea pizza crust); pissaladière (pizza with onions and anchovy topping); salade nicoise and other savoury dishes.lou one

L’Art Gourmand, 21 rue Marché

An establishment worth visiting for its divine home-made ice creams and sorbets offering the following flavours: licorice, violet, rose, fig, melon as well as conventional flavours.  Home-made sweets such as marzipan, nougat, chocolate, calissons, sugared rose petals, candied fruits and caramels. Upstairs is a tea and coffee salon. (I’ve read some client reviews since this was written and they’re not very complimentary.  Apparently, you should avoid the tea salon, just get the sweets and ice cream then go.)


nice-muse-chagallMarc-Chagall-museumchagall_museum_nice_paradisechagall bis

If you only have time to visit one museum during your stay in Nice, I recommend the dazzling Musée Chagall, located high above the city in the residential district of Cimiez (take bus no.15 direct from the centre of town below – check this bus number.)  I love the name Cimiez which is derived from the French word, cime, which means summit or mountain peak.

This is such a special place.  Marc Chagall’s sumptuous paintings are based on the Old Testament and the depicted theme is entitled The Biblical Message. The canvases are complemented with sculptures, engravings, a tapestry, mosaic and stained glass window. The cool, modern building sits in a peaceful park-like garden containing wild lavender and rosemary bushes, cyprus and olive trees. 

Small snack-bar outside and small gift-shop Inside.  closed Tuesdays (exceptionally closed from September 22, 2015 to early 2016 for renovation)


While in Cimiez, there’s also the Musée Matisse to visit.  Located in a 17th-century Genoese villa that houses the personal collection of the painter who settled in Nice in 1917 and died there in 1954. It comprises works from all periods, from the very first paintings made in the 1890’s to the gouache cutouts of the end of his life. There’s a unique collection of drawings and engravings, most of his sculpture and personal possessions.

Bus no. 15, 17, 20, 22 (better double-check these bus numbers)   closed Tuesdays


Train: I always take the night-train from Paris and book a First-Class couchette (air-conditioned cabin, free bottles of mineral water and only 4 couchettes to one cabin, as opposed to 6 couchettes in Second-Class).  

Tip – if you’re a woman travelling alone, the SNCF now offers “women’s cabins” where you’re locked in at night.

For more privacy and greater comfort, French night trains also offer a sleeping car called a voiture lit with only two beds to one cabin. All night trains leave the Gare de Lyon in Paris around 10:30 p.m. and arrive in Nice the following morning around 8:30 a.m.

This is old info.  The SNCF no longer runs night trains down to the Coast.  Sleeping cars, it seems, have gone out of fashion.  Too bad, because I used to love the romanticism of old-fashioned train travel.  I know that Lisa and her two daughters won’t agree with me.  While visiting from Toronto years ago, I put them on a night train to Antibes and it was one of the worst travel experiences of their lives.  I think the problem was that it was in the middle of winter, the train service had been cut back (as well as the heat), and they got an old clunker train.  Anyway, the trip was almost worth it because to hear Lisa tell the story is a hoot. 

Air France has 15 flights a day from Paris to Nice starting at 7:10 a.m. and ending at 9:10 p.m. The duration of the flight is 1 hour and 20 minutes.  There’s also Easyjet and Ryanair.  And the fast train, the TGV, during the day.  I’ve just looked at the SNCF website.  There are night trains, but they’ve abolished couchettes and sleeping cars.  Instead they offer a reclining seat (très uncomfortable to sleep on.) A one-way ticket costs 44 euros.  Leaves Austerlitz station at 21h22 and arrives next morning in Nice at 08h37.

Excellent day trip from Nice to a market in Italy – on Fridays there’s a huge outdoor market in Ventimiglia, Italy, only a 40-minute local train ride from Nice. (It’s very crowded, so keep an eye on your personal possessions.) “Every Friday all year round, French residents and tourists from across the border flock to this popular street market along the lungomare (seafront). They also come for the daily indoor fruit and vegetable market, for which the town is justly famous.”

5 thoughts on “the French Riviera

    • Me too! Re-reading that piece and posting it here made me realize how much I loved Nice. Last time I was there was in 2005. Time to re-visit.

  1. This is so well-written, informative and entertaining. You should be writing for major mags/papers. Like Nash72 above, I’m packing my bags right now! Thanks, also, for the tip on Ventimiglia.

    • Thanks Stan. I’ve decided to return to Nice sometime in 2016. I already have NYC, London and Lisbon on my travel list…but hopefully I can squeeze Nice and Ventimiglia in. Take care.

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