This is a continued recap of my recent trip to Europe. Read about days 3-5 in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France here. Read about days 1 and 2 – my travel days – here. See a complete map of my travels here.
I hopped in the taxi from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and was taken out of my little paradise into the busier, more touristy Nice in a mere half hour. When I arrived in Nice, I wondered how, just 10 km away, there was such a different atmosphere – peace, quiet, beauty. Nice, on first impression, felt louder, more crowded, and more stressful to me.
In Nice, I was to be joining a group trip designed for young professionals, hosted by FTLO Travel, a fairly new business that I simply discovered via a Google search. I had signed up for the Barcelona and South of France trip and was to be traveling with 12 strangers for the next week. I checked into the hotel booked by the company, which was the Hotel Brice Garden Nice, a clean, fine stay. I wandered up to my room, being the first to arrive, and pondered who my roommate would be.
Our trip members were on a Whatsapp group chat, and soon after I arrived, others were messaging their arrivals, too. I met up with a few other girls in the lobby and liked them instantly. We decided to stroll to the Promenade des Anglais, the main promenade on which to walk, bike, or dine, along the Mediterranean in Nice. It is a pretty walk, but congested with people. I still longed for the small, charming Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, but enjoyed the newfound company.
We were incredibly hungry and stopped at random at a restaurant on the promenade. It was mediocre at best – I would say these restaurants cater to tourists and are probably not the best in Nice. But, we needed to eat, and longed for an ocean view.
After regrouping and getting settled at the hotel, the entire group met downstairs in the early evening, and we embarked on a walking tour of Nice. It was pleasant to stroll and meet my new travel companions, and we stopped for wine and appetizers at a quaint spot in the Old Town. After our tour, we had our first dinner together on the beach.
We dined at le galet and were served rosé, fresh vegetables and fish, and a tasty, fruity dessert. It was a perfect first night, and promising for how the rest of the trip was to go.
I woke up the next morning exhausted from a night of poor sleep. Our air conditioning had not been working, and I had been feeling anxious at the prospect of waking up early to embark on a day trip to Èze and Monaco with the group. It was a bad combination and had me feeling unwell this day. I messaged our group leader on Whatsapp and explained my situation, telling him I simply would not be ready to join the group and asking if I could take a train to meet up with them later. He did not mind at all and told me he would keep me updated as to their whereabouts and help me to catch a later train.
(This was a positive that I discovered early on about FTLO Travel: you can participate in as much or as little as you would like. There is no pressure to go on every day trip or do every activity. You can choose what you want to do. I was very grateful for the flexibility and kindness I was shown.)
And so, I laid in bed for a few extra hours, still not catching much sleep. I eventually got up, showered, and ate the breakfast provided at the hotel. It was pouring rain out, and I was, frankly, glad to not be stuck on a bus driving the windy roads up to Èze. Still tired and lacking the motivation to travel, I messaged our group leader again that I would just be hanging around Nice that day. He was totally cool with it.
I ventured out on my own with a few vague ideas of what I wanted to see. I first strolled the streets of Old Town, the part of town that stills feels very Italian (since it used to be an Italian city!), popping in a few shops.
I stumbled upon a boulangerie and patisserie, Boulangerie Blanc, that seemed bright and warm against the chill, rainy city. It seemed to be a place where locals were flocking, so I joined them, and sure enough, there were no tourists to be seen or heard inside. I ordered a delicious jambon baguette sandwich and some flavorsome melon, and sat at a spare table in the back. The food was delightful, and the people lovely.
When I could not justify staying in that refuge from the rain any longer, I left for Castle Hill, which was where a castle – intended for military purposes – once stood at the top of a hill from the 11th to 18th century. Now, at the top, there are sweeping views of the city, waterfalls, an archaeological site, and a park.
I was not sure how far it would be the top, but I started slowly and stopped at the first lookout – unaware that the view would get much better the more steps I climbed! I continued to climb and spotted the beautiful, unusual waterfalls and the archaeological site.
I somehow, then, found my way to the very top of Castle Hill.
I looked out and felt truly appreciative of Nice for the first time – for the history, the sites at the top of the city, and the vistas. This, I thought, was a must in Nice, to see the city from this perspective.
I took my time, examining the landscape from all angles at this panoramic level.
I began to walk around another side of the hill and found myself at the park, with gorgeous views of the Nice port, which I had not yet seen.
Once again, I paused, and felt grateful for this moment. I was so glad to see Nice from a different point of view – both visually, and subjectively.
I walked around the perimeter of the park and found myself at a structure that resembled a lighthouse. Inside was an elevator, and, wondering where it went, I stepped inside. The elevator, as it turns out, took me back down to the street where I began this adventure. Perfect, I thought. I had been exploring Castle Hill for a long while, and it was time to head back.
I noticed the #ILoveNice sign lacked crowds at that very moment, so I strolled over to take a photo. And then, I received a text from our group leader saying that they were returning to Nice and were to visit a château, and did I want to come? Yes, for sure, I said, and walked back to meet them.
We took a 20-minute Uber ride to Château de Crémat, an attractive local winery with lovely views. We had a short, complimentary tasting (I favored the rosé – no surprise there) and strolled the grounds. It was a welcome break from the crowds in Nice.
Upon our return, a few of the girls and I walked to La Petite Maison, a restaurant that my taxi driver on the way to Nice said was a must. He informed me that it was famous and all the celebrities dined there. I was not sure about that, but I did want to try it.
Now, the restaurant is quite expensive so I chose to simply get the tomatoes with burrata cheese and a baguette (all were exceptional!) and then tried the citron sorbet for dessert. It was scrumptious! The server we had, too, was attentive and entertaining.
We walked back to the hotel, happy and full, and at last, I fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up feeling far better than the day before and determined to see Èze and Villefranche-sur-Mer, two nearby riviera towns that I had been dying to visit. And so, I passed up an opportunity to take a ferry to St. Tropez with the group, just having more interest in these other towns.
After eating breakfast at the hotel and showering, I walked into the bright sunshine (at last!) and ended up at the train station. I purchased a 2-euro ticket to Èze, just a 15-minute train ride away. I hopped on the train and was off.
The train dropped me at the coast of Èze. Èze is really famous for its hilltop village with breathtaking views of the riviera and old cobblestone streets. However, I saw a sign which alerted me that from where I was, it would be an hour walk (and a steep one at that) to get to Èze Village. I realized that one must take a bus or taxi to reach the top, as opposed to the train. The day was hot, and I decided to skip it and explore the beaches of Èze instead, being quite a beach girl myself.
The beach in Èze was spectacular. I loved the sea banked by the mountains. And I particularly loved the beachside dining and lounging in Èze. This is one of my favorite things about the French Riviera, and was something I adored doing in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat – renting a lounge chair for the day and receiving beachside service. What a way to spend a day.
I walked up and down the coast, admiring the splendid terrain. I was disappointed that I had not worn my bathing suit. I had not worn one because I had been expecting to be dropped at Èze Village, not by the beach, but the beach turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I would have loved to stay a while and swim!
Because I had no suit, I ended up beginning the hour-long walk up to the village, knowing I would not make it the whole way as the road was steep, and the air was growing hotter. Still, I climbed a short way to see a bit of the view. However, I soon climbed back down, feeling sweaty and getting rather hungry – and longing to get to Villefranche-sur-Mer, where I wanted to eat lunch.
I purchased a 1-euro ticket to Villefranche and hopped on a 7-minute train ride, which dropped me right where I wanted to be: above the beach. I walked down and found Déli Bo, a pink beachside café with a friendly server, and I decided I had found my lunch spot.
I sat beneath a cooling umbrella and felt instantly relaxed. I loved Villefranche instantly. It (and Èze) reminded me so much of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (which is nestled in between Villefranche and Èze). These little riviera towns had all the charm, to me. At Déli Bo, I ate melon with feta and basil, and an enormous bottle of water. I felt refreshed and at home. I was reluctant, in fact, to ask for my check and leave, but knew I could not stay all day.
Here, as I had in Èze, I wished for my swimsuit and that I could walk straight from my lunch spot into a lounge chair. Instead, I wandered into town and found a darling shop, where I purchased this hat.
I got lost in the streets of Villefranche before returning back to the sea, noticing that the afternoon was growing late, and the clouds came out. I wished to stay in Villefranche all day and felt reluctant to return to Nice. Although I had witnessed Nice’s beauty the previous day at Castle Hill, to me, it remained incomparable to these small riviera towns, so calm and full of magical sights.
But I did take a train back to Nice (another 1-euro, 7-minute ride) and freshened up at the hotel before our group’s final dinner, as the next day, we were to be traveling to Barcelona. This dinner was really something. It was at Le Plongeoir (meaning the diving board), which sat in the middle of the ocean. We walked out on a platform to get there and were immediately chilled by the wind coming off the water. Kindly, the staff gave us each a blanket and turned on heaters above us.
We all gazed at the views from this magical restaurant and dined on incredible rosé and seafood. I had a super fresh plate of fish and vegetables, and left feeling satisfied and content. We all grabbed a few scoops of gelato in Old Town before heading to bed and catching some zzz’s in preparation for our trip to Barcelona the next day.
In retrospect, I definitely have good memories from Nice and am glad I spent time there. But next trip, I would rather spend all my time in the smaller riviera towns. I want to see Èze Village, more of Villefranche, as well as other places like Antibes and Cannes. I would love to return to Cap-Ferrat, too! I do not, at all, feel the need to go back to Nice. It is a convenient place to fly in and out of – but to me, that is all. It was those little towns that truly captured my heart.
Upcoming post: Days 8-11 in Barcelona, Spain.