One year ago, before the word ‘Coronavirus’ became part of our daily vocabulary, I was sunbathing on the beach in Nice. I had just completed an 11-day train trip around Italy, and the French Riviera, or the Côte d’Azur as it’s called here, was the last stop on my journey. The entire trip, from beginning to end, was heavenly.
If, while lying on one of those lounge chairs with the Mediterranean Sea lapping gently at my feet, someone had said to me – “Within less than a year, the world will be ravaged by a life-threatening virus and hundreds of thousands will die”, I would have set down my glass of Prosecco, stared disbelievingly at that person and said “What?“
The beach in Nice is pebble, not sand. There are public and private beaches. One of my favorites is the Neptune private beach. You can rent a lounge chair (called a transat) for the day or half a day. 22 euros for the loungers in the first row (closest to the water), 18 euros for the other rows. The private beaches have restaurants, showers and lockers. If you wish, the plagiste (beach boy) will bring your food and drink directly to your lounge chair, or you can eat in the restaurant area (grilled fish, salads, pasta, grilled meats and chilled wines).
A truly hedonistic experience.
The atmospheric Old Town in Nice
This is a speciality of Nice called pissaladière, a pizza pie topped with caramelized onions, anchovies and olives. Yummy! Served warm, it’s delicious. Even yummier washed down with a glass of chilled rosé wine.
Another specialty is socca, a flatbread made from chick pea flour. Super easy to make. Non gluten, it has only 3 ingredients: water, chick pea flour and olive oil.
The Old Town of Nice is a feel-good kind of place. A district to wander in, eat street food, sit in the sun and have a meal accompanied with the local pink wine. In the large square, markets are held daily. There’s bustle, restaurants and shops here.
The last time I was in Nice was around fifteen years ago. Back then, there was a wonderful candy store, called a confiserie, located on the avenue Jean Médecin, the main boulevard running down the center of town. It was an old-fashioned candy store that sold regional specialties, and I remember a kindly, elderly lady served me. All my favorite sweets were in that shop: nougat, calissons, marzipan, all kinds of chocolates and candied fruits. The lady put my purchases into a gorgeous pink paper bag with the name Mimosa printed on it in gold letters. It all seemed like a dream. On this trip, a decade and a half later, I was 99% certain that the shop no longer existed. Nice has been completely modernized by its ambitious, “forward-thinking” mayor, and the consequence is that many of the small speciality shops have been replaced by chain stores like Zara, H&M, Starfucks, I mean, Starbucks, etc. It’s very sad.
So I was strolling down the avenue Jean Médecin imagining where that shop used to be when – lo and behold – there it was, right in front of me, completely unchanged. I stopped dead in my tracks, blinked, then ran into the place. I chatted excitedly to the saleswoman inside (almost greeting her like a long, lost friend); she said it was a family business and they were one of the last specialty sweet shops standing in the region.
I purchased my favorite candied mandarin oranges, calissons, and egg-shaped praline chocolates (dyed blue to look like robin’s eggs).
It’s a small shop wedged in between larger stores on either side, with the original marble floor and glass and marble shelves. If you go to Nice, please visit this shop and buy their delicious products. The candied mandarins are divine, and if you haven’t tasted calissons, you’re missing out on a treat.
Calissons are a traditional French candy consisting of a pale yellow paste of candied melons, oranges and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of hard white icing. They have a texture similar to marzipan, but with a fruitier, distinctly melon-like flavour. Calissons are almond-shaped and typically about two inches in length. Calissons are traditionally associated with the town of Aix-en-Provence; consequently, most of the world supply of calissons is still made in the Provence region.
Another institution in Nice is Le Grand Café de Lyon, a beautiful Belle Epoque restaurant-café located at 33 avenue Jean Médecin.
I stayed in an excellent, modestly-priced hotel called Ibis Styles Nice Centre Gare located at 3 avenue Durante. Request a room overlooking the inner courtyard. A full buffet breakfast is included in the price of the room, one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had.
People in the south of France love pizzerias. I ate in two excellent pizza-pasta joints: Pizza Cresci on the bustling pedestrian street, rue Massena, at number 34 and further along at number 37 rue de France, La Trattoria. Both have outside terraces. The pizza is excellent as is the service.
For those of you who haven’t seen my photos and blog posts of my excellent trip to Italy last June (Rome, Lecce and Polignano a Mare in the Puglia region, and Bologna), here’s the link here: