Last summer, my boyfriend suggested on impulse that we head over to the South of France for a few days. I was pretty excited at the thought!
We decided to take the car over in order to take full advantage of our time in the area. I instantly started picturing myself like Audrey Hepburn, complete with sunglasses and headscarf, sunning myself in a convertible on the Riviera.
In reality, I drive a Seat Ibiza which doesn’t even have a sunroof, but a girl can dream! However, the trip itself turned out so much better than anything my imagination could conjure up. Here’s why…
Driving the Cote d’Azur
One of the main advantages of the French Riviera is that it’s a lot smaller than you’d think. The entire Cote d’Azur is only 120 kilometres, and if you use the coast road you can drive from one end to the other in approximately three hours.
This means if you take the car over to Nice, a long weekend offers you plenty of time to explore everything the area has to offer. After just three days I came away feeling I really knew the place, and my other half, who had previously only passed through Nice on his way to Monaco, felt a great deal better acquainted with it, too.
We found a lovely, reasonably priced hotel, the Floride on Boulevard de Cimiez. It’s in a great, fairly central location, and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful.
The main attraction, however, was that they offer free car parking! This was our base from which we explored Nice thoroughly over the two days of our stay.
Day One: Nice Old Town
We decided to spend the first day exploring Nice Old Town, one of the main attractions of the city.
Known as Vieux Nice by the locals, the town has a very medieval Mediterranean feel and is constantly buzzing with activity, full of shops and restaurants offering traditional local cuisine.
The Old Town is essentially triangular in shape. We began our exploration on the north side, at the Promenade du Paillon, a new public park opened in 2013. This is a beautiful green space with some impressive fountains, and provided a lovely relaxing way to guide us into the town itself.
From here we wandered down Rue St Francois de Paule, a luxury shopping street with some famous establishments including the Patisserie Henri Auer. This little confectioners is something close to heaven for a chocaholic like myself, and is also well worth a visit for its architecture, as it dates back to 1820 and has changed little in this time.
Also on this street we found the Opera de Nice, the city’s main theatre, which offers performances of opera and ballet from France’s top artistes. It is actually the second theatre that has stood on this spot; the original Baroque building was destroyed by fire in 1881, and the theatre that stands here today opened in 1885.
In the afternoon we paid a visit to the beautiful Cathedrale Sainte Reparate, which is built in 17th Century Baroque style, and can be found on Place Rossetti, before deciding to try and find somewhere to eat.
A member of staff at our hotel had recommended the Bistrot d’Antoine, on Rue de la Prefecture. It was absolutely buzzing with activity when we arrived. They did find us a table, but if I were to visit it again I would definitely make a reservation in advance.
However, it was worth the wait. It is mainly frequented by locals, which is always a good sign, and really gave us a feel of the French culture as well as the cuisine!
I can thoroughly recommend the Beef Tartare, and they offer an excellent choice of wines.
Much of the Old Town’s nightlife is also situated on this street. While most of the bars are like English pubs in style, there are some more classy French establishments here too!
Thoroughly fed and “watered”, we headed back to our hotel for the night.
Day Two: Sightseeing and Sunbathing
We began our second day in Nice with a visit to the Musee Matisse. This museum is dedicated to the artist Henri Matisse, and houses one of the largest collections of his work in the world.
Housed in a 17th Century mansion, it was close to our hotel, so we managed to get there early and avoid the queues, it being the height of summer.
The museum was a fascinating insight into Matisse’s work (the boyfriend and I are both art fans but didn’t know much about Matisse prior to this visit), and showcases his entire career from his early drawings through to his later masterpieces. Matisse lived in Nice until his death in 1954, and the museum opened in 1963, although it has been renovated and extended since then.
Following this, we went to investigate the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas. Opened in 1912, it was built in traditional Russian style, so is quite at odds with the rest of the architecture in the area, but offers a glimpse into a completely different culture, right in the heart of the Mediterranean!
The cathedral was paid for by Tsar Nicholas II, in recognition of the long association between Russia and the South of France, and is the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe.
For lunch, we decided to try Nice’s speciality dish, which is called Socca. It is essentially a huge pancake seasoned with black pepper, and is available at a great many of the restaurants in the area.
We chose Chez Pipo on Rue Bavastro, which came highly recommended and is always busy but very welcoming. The restaurant has been in the same family for three generations, and the Socca recipe has not changed since then. I can thoroughly recommend it!
After that, we wanted nothing more than a lie down in the sun, so spent an indulgent afternoon watching the world go by on the famous Promenade des Anglais, where we were confronted by a host of people on skateboards and in-line skates, in addition to the strollers and sunbathers like ourselves!
It was a beautiful relaxing experience, and in many ways, what the South of France is all about.
That evening we headed back into the Old Town for our last meal in Nice, which we took at a lovely local restaurant, Chez Acchiardo on Rue Droite. Another hugely popular restaurant, they eventually found us a table, and the fish was delicious.
Sadly, we had to head back to our hotel, to pack for our early start in the morning.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Nice, and although it was only for a short time, we managed to cram a lot in and really explore the place.
I would happily go back to Nice, but Cannes was calling me, and my suitcase was ready!
For more South of France road trips read this post.