Nice is a city painted in pastel colors. The sky is a pale blue swathed with soft clouds. The streets of the city are endless broad promenades of 17th and 18th century buildings painted in soft yellow, white and red. My hostel was a small and stuffy affair on the Rue Pertinax which is just off Jean Medecin. Jean Medicin is the main drag in Nice and leads right to the Mediterranean and the beautiful beaches of the Cote D’Azur. Nice is the heart of the Cote D’Azur, or the French Riviera, perhaps the most glamorous place on earth.
At nearly one million people Nice is a large city. It was founded by the same Ancient Greeks who founded Marseille and Nice has enjoyed much of the same history as a center of trade. Nice’s proximity to Italy has naturally made the city very Italian in character. The colors and design of much of its architecture are similar to what might see in many Italian towns. The city is ringed with large hills. The port is seperated from the beaches and old town by a large headland. On the western side of the promontory is an enormous monument to the victims of the two world wars. The eastern portion of the city is a long, gently curved crescent shaped beach lined with boardwalk.
From Nice one can easily access some of the most famous French towns by rail. Ten miles west of Nice lie the beaches of Antibes, a city that has enjoyed a recent vogue in the game of musical chairs between the French and Italian towns of the Riviera as the most glamorous and popular with the rich and famous. Halfway between Antibes and Nice lies Cannes. Cannes is famous for two reasons. First and foremost Cannes is famous for the annual film festival held in the city which attracts the entire cinematic world. Secondly Cannes has soft white sand beaches, which contrast markedly with the large stone and gravel beaches of many other Riviera towns.
To the East of Nice is Principality of Monaco. Monaco is famous as one of the smallest countries on earth, smaller than Central Park. The principality is a fantasy playland for the rich and famous with more millionaries per square mile than any other place in the world. The tiny nation has its own casino, aquarium, beaches and luxury resort hotels. Sports cars prowl every winding corner and the sun shines down plentifully. Beyond Monaco is Menton and the Italian border with the resort town of San Remo beyond that. With so many beautiful places to see in such a short stretch of coast, Nice is an ideal base of operations.
Nice has many of the qualities of Marseille. It is an ancient seaside town that is quaint, antique and slightly grimy. A walk down Jean Medecin toward the shore reveals a diverse selection of stores and boutiques. The boulevard ends near a beautiful plaza filled with fountains. The beaches of Nice are plentiful but are covered with large stones and can be very uncomfortable to walk on. The water is warm like any place on the Mediterranean. The beach is studded with many beautiful beach clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and casinos. Walking down the long boardwalk is like something out of a dream. Hundreds of young people hang out on the beach every night as the sun sets drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and playing music. The boardwalk is alight with activity as couples stroll along holding hands and people lean against the railing talking into all hours of the night. Nice is much like a postcard of Coney Island or the Jersey Shore at the turn of the century.
It is a different experience eating a French breakfast as opposed to an American or English breakfast. Each morning I would wake up and stroll to the corner cafe where they sold an incredible variety of pastries. Croissants filled with ham, cheese, tomatoes and vegetables and sweet rolls covered with different syrups. I would enjoy a cup of strong french coffee and a few of these delicious rolls as I planned out my days. Some of these took me straight to the beach where I would bask in the sun and swim for hours.
On my second day in Nice I visited a modern art museum. The Nice museum of modern art is filled with incredible exhibits of painting and sculpture by artists such as Yves Klein and Andy Warhol. There were many fantastic exhibits covering all mediums and in fantastic varieties of color. The exhibits extended to the roof of the museum which offered a panorama of the city in all directions. After visiting the museum I wandered the streets leading back to the shore. As the sun was setting I decided to grab dinner at a boardwalk bistro. The service at French restaurants always seems just a little bit better when you order in French and that night I enjoyed an exceptional meal of Salade Nicoise and Seafood Pasta. After dinner I sat smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee and looking out at the sea while I planned out my next day.
On my third day in Nice I made my way to the train station, which is an old and charming structure located conveniently close to my hostel. After a train ride of only five miles the train pulled into Cannes. Cannes is a cleaner and richer city than Nice. My first stop was to head straight to the beach. The sand was incredibly soft on my feet and blessedly cool-since it is white and powdery it does not absorb heat as well as most sand. Artists had created incredibly large and fantastic sculptures in the sand of castles and large smiling figures. The women who wandered onto that beach were some of the most breathtakingly beautiful women that I have ever seen. Mediterranean women are tall, lean and incredibly tanned. They are the mixture of many different European, Middle Eastern and African nationalities and they are all creatures of the sun.
After taking in the sights of Cannes I decided to wander around the town for a few hours before catching a train back to Nice. I wandered along the boardwalk, gazing at the white washed cupolas and balconies of Cannes’ spectacular hotels and mansions. Everywhere there were advertisements for fashion designers and perfumes showing exorbitant clothing on perfect human forms. After a little searching I found the Cannes Film Festival convention center. As I looked at it I tried to imagine the city during time of the festival-filled with glamorous celebrities decked out in the height of fashion for one of the film industry’s most prestigious nights. I took in lunch at a cafe and as it was another gorgeous day I sat outdoors enjoying a croque monsieur and coffee. After eating I pulled my journal from my bag and wrote for a while before making my way back to the train station.
I would spend three more days in Nice. During that time I would visit Monaco, which I will describe in a seperate article. For the other three days I relaxed in Nice, shopping, going to the beach and enjoying the seafood of the Cote D’Azur. My time in Nice was truly relaxing. I have never been to a place where you can drink wine on the beach as the sun sets and then wander onto the boardwalk for a light meal. If you feel like a little excitement there are clubs and bars everywhere or you can wander into a casino for some black jack and poker. The night air smells like the sea, wine and tobacco in a city that is the ultimate experience of the French Riviera. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this paradise but Italy was only a few miles away and I was extremely excited when I headed out of the hostel to catch a train to the Italian border and then on to Rome.