Unlike most of the other destinations we visited in France, our stay in Nice was very short. But despite our short time there, Jave, my parents, and I were instantly taken by Nice. As we strolled and drove along Promenade des Anglais, the city’s popular walkway along the Mediterranean waterfront, we kept marveling at how much Nice reminded us of some of L.A.’s beach cities – only better.
While Nice is France’s fifth most populous city and the second largest French city on the Mediterranean after Marseille, we certainly didn’t get any big city vibes while there. That’s probably because the city only has a population of about 1 million. So we didn’t have to deal with crowds, heavy traffic, or noise. Instead, we felt like we were in a mid-sized seaside town.
Nice was founded around 350 BC by the Greeks of Marseille and the city was originally named Nikaia after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Today, the city is known as “Nice la Belle” or “Nice the Beautiful.” From our pictures, it’s easy to see why.
To make the most of the little time we had there, we met up with a guide for a private walking tour of Old Nice. As we oriented ourselves in Old Nice, we noticed that vendors were starting to set up their market stalls on Cours Saleya.
Our guided walk included a visit to Colline du Château (Castle Hill). Although you can climb nearly 300 steps to the top of the hill, our guide showed us the easy way up on the elevator. Once stepping out of the elevator, we were immediately greeted by panoramic views of Nice below.
While there’s not a castle at the top of Castle Hill, there is a park where parents take their kids to burn off some energy. There’s also an area where you’ll find beautiful mosaic steps from which you’ll witness amazing views of the harbor below.
Given its geography, Nice was one of the busiest trading ports although it competed with the Cemenelum, a Roman town that’s now known as Cimiez which is a present day neighborhood in Nice.
While at the top of Castle Hill, we came across the ruins of Cimiez Cathedral, a former Roman Catholic cathedral that was destroyed when Nice was seized in 1691.
Before descending Castle Hill, we stopped for some pictures of a waterfall found at the top of the hill. Later in the afternoon, from the street-level restaurant where we ate lunch back in Old Nice, we had a unique view of the waterfall above, especially since there was a chandelier strung above the street.
As we walked down the stairs from Castle Hill, I couldn’t help but picture us living a quieter life in one of the colorful, old apartment buildings at the foot of the hill. I was reminded of our walk through Le Panier in Marseille. There’s something so captivating about old French neighborhoods.
On one of Nice’s many picturesque streets, we came across Palais Lascaris, an aristocratic building dating back to the 17th century that was formerly owned by the Vintimille-Lascaris family.
In 1942, the city bought the building and it’s currently used as a museum of historical musical instruments. While we merely peeked inside of the museum, the next time we’re in Nice, I’d definitely like to explore it in more depth.
Soon enough, the city’s winding streets opened up to a fish market where vendors were selling the surplus from fishermen who’d overfished for the day.
If we were staying in town longer and if we’d rented an apartment, I definitely would’ve bought some fish for dinner because everything looked so amazingly fresh!
As we came to the stunning plaza where the Nice Cathedral is located, we couldn’t help but stop for a gelato break at Fenocchio where we had some of the freshest gelato ever.
While my strawberry gelato was good, I wish that I’d followed Jave’s lead and ordered a scoop of lavender; the flavor was so subtle and refreshing!
During our walk, we came across a vendor selling socca, a thin pancake-like specialty made of chickpea flour. While socca originated in Genoa, it’s become a popular food along the Ligurian coast from Pisa to Nice.
As we made our way back to the market stalls of Cours Saleya, our guide stopped to pick up some freshly made ravioli for his lunch from Maison Barale and some greens for a simple salad from one of the produce vendors.
He said that when he left us, he was going to go home, prepare his lunch, and pour himself a few glasses of wine and enjoy his lunch on his apartment’s balcony overlooking the harbor. Mind you, this was on a weekday. Man, the French really know how to live!