Bonjour, Nice!

Another trip?

I was thinking that too.

But, yes.  Last week, we went to Nice, France.

Luke was heading to Nice for a conference, and while I’ve been looking forward to spending more time in our new hometown, I knew the 80-year-old me would give my current self a good noogie for passing up an almost-all-expense-paid trip to the French Riviera.  Hating noogies and hoping that my future self is in fact older and wiser, I took her advice and jumped in the car with Luke.

I’m only realizing it now, but our trip to Nice was my first real trip to a European beach.  I’ve seen a few in the past, but never spent a significant amount of time at one.  Oops, I didn’t realize I was experiencing a milestone.

And so, without any mental preparation, Nice kind of blew my mind.  Not necessarily due to European culture shock, but because Nice is such a happening place.

There’s the city.

Rue Massena and the Cours Saleya are lined with restaurants, all with outdoor seating and packed with visitors from all over the world. The city also boasts endless shopping, museums, and parks.

The beachfront.

The Promenade des Anglais is the famous seaside walk of Nice. People walk, bike, and roller blade along the beach.

The beach itself is “unique” without an ounce of sand (all rocks, so bring a good set of beach shoes!) The rocks don’t scare away the frugal beach goers. If you want to pamper yourself, you can rent a beach chair and umbrella for 15-20 Euro at one of the private beach clubs (sometimes with carpet at the foot of your chair and leading to the water to protect your feet from the rocks).

And the port.

One look at the port of Nice and you’ll start saving to buy yourself a sail boat or yacht.

European beach or not, the combination of beach and city still amazes me.  It shouldn’t (I’ve visited a handful and lived in LA for 6 months).  But here I am, amazed.

Growing up on Long Island, going to the beach meant packing a cooler with snacks for the day and filling the car with as many towels, chairs, and umbrellas as you could carry.  Then you’d lug your gear through the massive beach parking lot and across the sand until you found your spot.  You’d set up your temporary home on the sand and stay all day (or at least until the snacks ran out).  The only things in sight were water, waves, sand, and, of course, those sharing the beach with you.

So, for me, it’s an odd novelty that in Nice you can take a break from the beach for some shopping, a museum visit, or a three-course gourmet lunch.  I also found it strange that there were four lanes of audible traffic just behind the beach, as well as planes flying overhead.  And, since we were there on a weekend in June, we stumbled across a number of wedding parties in action, most of whom enjoyed a celebratory honking procession down the beach strand.

Am I at the beach?  Or in a city?  I’m at the beach IN a city.  Mind.  Blown.

I enjoyed observing the others on their cosmopolitan beach holidays.   It was fun taking it all in.  But I couldn’t shake my Long Island ways.  I still packed as many snacks as I could fit in my backpack and we set up camp with a little umbrella we found by the trash.


Where we went: Nice, France.  Nice is located on the Mediterranean just forty minutes from the French-Italian border.  It’s sandwiched by the popular cities of Cannes to the West and Monaco to the East.  It is the second most visited city in France (after Paris), a fact you sense immediately upon hitting the city’s streets and seaside walk.  Being close to Italy, there’s a lot of Italian influence in Nice (Italian food, signs in Italian, and Italian overheard in the streets).

How we got there: We drove from Bologna.  On the way to Nice, we headed towards Parma on the Autostrada, then we turned towards the coast, and drove the rest of the way along the coast passing through Genoa.  On the return trip, we drove along the coast driving through Monaco and Eze, then got back on the Autostrada, and made a detour to Pisa before heading back to Bologna.  The trip to Nice took about five hours, and the return trip took about eight hours (with a couple of rest stops, some traffic, and the detour to Pisa).

Favorite activity: Biking.  Like other cities we’ve visited (like Boston & London), Nice has a public system for bikes for rent.  We were able to pick up a bike by our hotel and then ride to the beach and along the coast to our heart’s content.  In Nice, before renting a bike, you must register with your payment information online.  Then you can access a bike at one of the public bike docks using your phone number.

What we ate: We tried some local street foods (socca, pissaladière, and crêpes) and picked up a French baguette fresh-out-of-the-oven at a pâtisserie.  Luke ate his fair share of seafood and Italian at his business lunches/dinners.  I took the opportunity while eating solo to check out some vegetarian friendly eateries, where I ate some tasty vegetable tarts and fresh vegetables.  Our last night, we opted for some Ethnic eats and headed to a Lebanese restaurant off of the main drag.

Socca from Lou Pilha Leva. Socca is a pancake-like street food found in Nice made from chickpea flour.

Warm French baguette

Carrot pie, sweet potato pie, and fresh veggies at Argane Bio. Their daily dish, couscous and veggies, also looked delectable, but I showed up a tad before it was ready.

Where we ate:

Off the beaten path slightly:

Argane Bio, 35 Avenue Marechal Foch (V) – hands down my favorite meal in Nice.  A lovely and quaint cafe that serves a small number of take-out and eat-in vegetarian fare.
Le Speakeasy, 7 Rue la Martine (V) – a quirky vegan, cafe run by an American from California. Don’t let the “meat is killing America” writing out front scare you away if you’re in need of a wholesome lunch.
La Vie Claire, 18 Rue La Martine (V) – this is a bio grocery store, where I stocked up on snacks for the beach.
Ya Habibi, 6 Rue Congrés (V- and meat-eater friendly) – Lebanese. We spotted Ya Habibi on this blog and enjoyed our meal, despite accidentally ordering the non-vegetarian sampler menu.
(V)= vegetarian. See more vegetarian friendly spots in Nice here.

Joining the party on Rue Massena, Cours Saleya, Old Town, etc:

Lou Pilha Leva, 10 Rue du Collet – Popular place for socca. They had a fresh pan coming out of the oven both times I visited.
Villa d’Este, 6 Rue Masséna – Italian fare picked by an American colleague
Boccaccio, 7 Rue Massena – Italian fare picked by an Italian colleague
Les Viviers, 22 Rue Alphonse Karr- French/seafood fare picked by an American colleague who called the nicest hotel in Nice asking for a recommendation based on her list of requirements (ex: needed to be quieter for a biz dinner).  Brilliant, right?
La Cambuse, 5 Cours Saleya – French fare picked by a French colleague

Fun fact: Nice was given to France by Italy in the 1860’s as a gift after the French helped Italy in a war against Austria.

What we think: Nice is nice.  (I’ve managed to get nearly to the end of this post without saying that.  Couldn’t help it).

Nice Resources

48 Hours In: Nice, The Independent (2012)

48 Hours In: Nice, The Independent (2009)

48 Hours In: Nice, The Independent (2007)

Going to Nice, NY Times (2005)

{Blog} How To Be An American In Nice, France, Gonzaga Bulletin (2012)

{Blog} La Femme Snacks in Nice, France, lafemmemange (2012)

{Blog} A Short: What I do, what I eat in Nice, Je Mange Toute la France (2012)

{Blog} Chef-recommended restaurants in Nice, TravelEater

{Blog} Nice District Guide, Total Travel Wenatchee (2011)

I’m curious: What differences between American and European beach culture have you spotted in your travels?


2 thoughts on “Bonjour, Nice!

  1. Holly

    Glad you enjoyed Nice! It’s a great city, and I too was surprised at the rocky beaches. Also glad you liked Ya Habibi, I’ll definitely go there again. If you like Indian/Afghani cuisine, there’s an incredible Afghani restaurant in the city too. Also very vegetarian friendly.

    1. ciaobologna Post author

      Ciao, Holly! Thanks for all the restaurant pointers. I think the conference Luke went to runs every year or two, so I’ll put the Afghani restaurant on my list for next time. Sounds great!


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