Being in the south of France, we felt we couldn't call our time here complete without a trip to the French Riviera, aka the Côte d'Azur. So with less than a week left before we take off for several days of travel on our way to Edinburgh, we rented a car and booked a hotel room in Nice.
I had had some hesitations about going to Nice as our final trip. "Maybe we should try to head into the Alps instead," I thought. "Nice is going to feel rather built up and touristy - maybe we won't love it." But after talking with some people we met in Arles, and looking at recommendations online, the draw of the place won me over.
It turns out Nice is indeed built up and touristy - but it's also so much more. Nothing about the city feel kitschy, and while there are many English-speaking tourists, there are also many Italians, and the city has its own diversity. The city is quite clean and bright, with wide streets, a big greenway, and an ocean promenade made for strolling. The whole place has a relaxed, happy atmosphere.
The buildings are painted in pastels, and everywhere you look is gorgeously ornate Belle Epoch architecture. The history of wealthy Europeans heading here to escape dreary northern winters means there are also interesting sights like the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the waterfront Opéra de Nice.
And finally, I have to say the beach in Nice is just gorgeous. The water is an unbelievable color, the view stretches out in both directions, and while the beach is all stones, they are smooth, rounded, and all pale gray.
Our trip also took us to Antibes and Monaco, which share some of the same character of Nice, but have their own flavors, as well.
Antibes has less of the open, planned-city feeling of Nice - its downtown is full of narrow, Medieval streets with lots of shops and restaurants, but also quieter residential alleys. When we were there, there was an antiques market in a square that was fun to browse, and we found an American-style coffee shop with soy milk(!) and to-go cups(!). The waterfront has cool, Medieval fortifications, and it boasts some awesome views - looking up the coast toward Nice, you can see snowcapped mountains rising in the distance.
Monaco, in my opinion, is more a place to say you've been than a place you'll really enjoy while you're there... unless you're extremely wealthy and stay at one of the exclusive and closed off hotels that make up the city. The whole place is quite tiny - Monte Carlo is more like a small neighborhood within it than its own city - and there's not much to do.
The famous casino building is quite beautiful from the outside and from what we could see of the inside, but to go in to the casino floor you have to pay 10 euros a piece, which didn't seem worth it. We did find the Japanese garden quite nice, and we had a lovely meal overlooking the beach.
The city itself is rather cool for how it has been built up into the steep hillside, but all in all, I would recommend skipping it. Brendan, on the other hand, would be happy to go back and check out that casino from the inside if he can find any takers. ;-)