French Riviera 5/23

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France, but with an Italian and Spanish flavor...

Tiny Villefranche sur Mer between Nice and Monaco

This was my first trip to the French Riviera. It was a different France than I had experienced in Paris or Burgundy. The architecture is some combination of Italian and Spanish. The "zeitgeist" is both neighborly and upscale. There are lots of well-dressed, beautiful people everywhere (I fit right in - hah!). Prices were higher than in Portugal, but not ridiculous. As I have found throughout my European travels, language was not a barrier - or maybe they just prefer me not to butcher their language by trying. I spent three days walking the iconic Promenade des Anglais, the old town (Vieux Nice), the city-state of Monaco, and the charming little village of Villefranche sur Mer. This was also a legacy inspired stop. My father, who traveled a lot in retirement, wanted to see the French Riviera, but ran out of time before he made it here.

Thursday May 11th - Nice arrival


After some destination-driven weather delays, I arrived at Nice's Cote d'Azur airport around 6PM CEST from Lisbon. I asked at the TI where I could meet an Uber, but they directed me to the taxi stand. Throughout the EU, Uber is restricted, especially outbound at airports. The 10 minute taxi ride to my hotel, Hyatt's Palais de la Méditerranée, was 36€! Check-in was exceptional, with a room upgrade, comped breakfasts, and a personal greeting from the hotel manager. I walked a few blocks off of the Promenade to get some wine and croissants for my balcony (first picture below). As the sun set and the rain moved in, I found a cute little cafe near my hotel on the Promenade for dinner (second picture below).

The Promenade des Anglais waterfront in Nice

Palais de la Méditerranée balcony

Rainy sunset Promenade cafe

Iconic Le Negresco Hotel

Promenade blue chairs


Friday May 12th - Nice Promenade and Vieux Nice


A strong thunderstorm started around 3AM and put on quite a show for more than an hour. The crescent shape of the Cote d'Azur on the Bay of Angels, along with the mountains behind it, capture and hold all kinds of weather. After a good night's sleep, I woke to sunshine and beautiful clouds. Breakfast on the hotel's outdoor terrace was great. I began my four-mile Promenade walk at the famous Le Negresco Hotel (third picture above). I talked the guard into letting me into the lobby as long as I didn't take any pictures. He said that was to protect the privacy of their famous guests, which made sense to me. The lobby's artwork was everywhere and impressive. The Promenade itself is a wide walk and bike way that is teaming with people day and night. It doesn't look like the Champ Elysees in Paris, but the feeling is similar. The beach is not at all sandy - it is covered by smooth rocks, necessitating beach lounges and chairs. It is still a topless beach, but as I had read in the travel books, most of the women who were topless were at least my age (not that there is anything wrong with that). All along the Promenade itself, the well-known blue chairs are plentiful and available (fourth picture above). I passed people from all walks of life and all ages doing their uniquely individual "Prom strolls" (first picture below). At the eastern end of the Prom is Castle Hill, with a nice view of the whole Cote d'Azur (large picture top of page right and second picture below).


After a mid-day turnaround at my hotel, I headed away from the Prom into the old town - Vieux Nice, where i did Rick Steve's walk and explored some more remote corners. I read a good reference book before the trip, Nice Uncovered - Walks through the secret heart of a historic city, that pointed out many lesser-known spots worth seeing. There was a huge farmers market going on where I loaded up on exotic croissants that substituted for lunch. I also found Wayne's Bar (third picture below) along my walk that was just right for a pub dinner that evening. Vieux Nice was very worthwhile, with sights, local people, and shops around every corner (fourth picture below as an example). With rain threatening again, I finished the afternoon journaling notes on my trusty Kindle Scribe over a good Bordeaux and chocolate croissant (first picture above).


Promenade photographer & model

Bay of Angels crescent beachfront

Wayne's Bar - Old Town

Vieux Nice Cathédrale Ste-Réparate


Saturday May 12th - Monaco and Villefranche sur Mer


After another great breakfast on the terrace at the hotel, I walked to Nice Ville train station and boarded the train to Monaco around 9AM. The 20 minute ride is very picturesque, skirting the lower Corniche and passing by several small coastal towns. Monaco is an instant hit to the senses - where the 1% of the 1% play. It is dense-packed over steep hills with tall condos and hotels perched all over them. The cars are like something out of a James Bond movie. I quipped in a Facebook post that evening that Monaco is where an off-the-rack Ferrari is only for peasants. I found my way to the famous Monte Carlo Casino (first picture below) and then worked my way down the hill toward the Mediterranean, stopping for a couple of gelatos along the way. My picture of just one corner of the yacht parking lot doesn't do it justice (second picture below). The Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix was only a couple weeks away, so there were many road diversions and a lot of setup underway (third picture below). Walking that whole race route, it was unbelievable to me that they could do a race there. One driver once famously said that the Monaco Grand Prix was like riding your bicycle in your living room. I watched the race when it was televised on May 28th - wow those drivers are talented! I stopped at the official Grand Prix store on my way back to Monaco Ville train station, but was unwilling to spend 50€ on a T-shirt. Monaco was worth experiencing - once.


Following advice from a couple of guidebooks, I took the train from Monaco Ville to Villefranche sur Mer (rough translation: town without taxes), which is about three quarters of the way back to Nice. It lived up to the hype. It is a small, walkable village with narrow streets (fourth picture below) opening up to a beautiful waterfront (large picture, top of page left). I walked all through the village and the old Citadel before settling down for a leisurely late lunch at La Grignotiere. I had their signature spaghetti with mussels and shrimp (Spaghetti de la Grignotiere) accompanied by one of their house reds - one of the best meals of my entire trip. In my opinion, Villefranche sur Mer is a definite "don't miss" place on the French Riviera.


Monaco's Monte Carlo Casino

Monaco yacht parking lot

Monaco Grand Prix grand stands

Villefranche sur Mer street


After my late lunch in Villefranche sur Mer, I took the short train ride back to Nice Ville station. It was mid-afternoon, so I decided to walk from the train station to the highly recommended Chagall Museum before returning to my hotel. I got lost along the way (that happened often on this trip) and also did not realize how high the hills were getting there - Google Maps doesn't include terrain information. I eventually found it and was pleased with the low 8€ entry cost. What a disappointment this museum was! It is small with what seemed like about 10 paintings. What was there was great - his biblical interpretation paintings are wonderful, but there was very little else. I even tried the perfume paired with paintings room, but rather than being clever, to me it came off as contrived and stupid. 20 minutes was more than enough time to see everything.


I Ubered from the Chagall back to my hotel with a detour at a corner bakery cafe for a couple of dessert croissants. I polished off my bottle of Bordeaux with the croissants on the balcony, processed and backed up pictures, and wrote my daily journal. With a bit of packing, I was prepared for my Sunday flights to the next stop on my 22 day EU adventure in Florence and Tuscany, Italy.


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