The French Riviera, or La Cote d’Azur, is simply glorious. I chose Nice as my home base from which to explore, and saved some money by going the Airbnb route and staying about a 10 minute walk to the beach, and about that same distance to the train station. Even though it’s starting to be “off season” here, it was still fairly crowded, with locals, of course, and tourists from all over the world, and a stroll just about anywhere comes with the sounds of mostly French, then Italian, some German, some English, and various other languages. The architecture is just stunning, adding to the beauty of the natural setting. And the blue of the sea along this coastline, particularly along Nice, is a gorgeous turquoise into a deep blue.
Friday evening, after I arrived and got settled in, I walked down to the water to experience the evening stroll along the very large promenade, the Promenade des Anglais, a four mile stretch of walkway along the beach, built and paid for back in the early 1800’s by some wealthy English tourists that desired a walking path along the shore. It was lovely to see in the evening and sunset light. I returned on Saturday to walk from the eastern promenade, which leads up to a lookout over the beach, and then westward to get a glimpse of the famous Hotel Negresco from the promenade, stopping along the way to go through the outdoor market in the old town area. Part of the afternoon was spent sharing philosophies with a sweet older French man — a teacher from Cannes who comes to Nice to shop and apparently try to charm younger women. I preferred the intelligent conversation over the previous younger “charmer” earlier on my walk, which was just annoying. I must have a sign on my forehead that says “give it a try”. It’s somewhat amusing.
Sunday morning I planned my route for exploring the area beyond Nice, and opted to visit Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco, and it was a perfect choice. I took the bus from Nice to Villefranche, along with a whole bunch of other people all packed in like sardines, many of whom were going further east to Cap Ferrat, which I had to cut from my plans, due to lack of time. In Villefranche, I made my way down through the old town to the harbor, and had lunch at one of the many outdoor cafés. The table right beside me was shared by two very nice ladies, who just happened to be from Seattle. I mean, come on. Such a small world. It was lovely to share some conversation about travel, with an incredible view of the harbor the looks across to Cap Ferrat. Just stunning.
After the sardine bus, I opted to take the train from here to Monaco, which was super easy, and then made I my way up to the Palace Square, where the Prince’s Palace stands grand, complete with ceremonial guard. The views from all sides of this hill are amazing. I made my way to the Cathedral of Monaco, which was really beautiful. This is where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace were married, and are now buried, with fresh flowers on their tombs. From the church, I walked through the Jardin Botanique, admiring these beautiful gardens on the cliffs above the sea. This is where I noticed that even the pigeons in the park were all quite mannerly and proper, in a way, picking at seeds and whatnot on a grassy area, sort of staying together in a polite little group. The path through the garden also leads to the Cousteau Aquarium, which was built in 1910 by Prince Albert I, and directed by Jacques Cousteau for 32 years. It was impressive to see, complete with a rooftop deck with incredible views, and a lovely cafe area where I had afternoon tea. In Monaco. On the Riviera.