We left Rome for Nice early Saturday morning. So early that you would have thought our “private driver” would use his headlights in the dark, especially while negotiating curves and other crazy drivers. But he only turned them on, as needed, to alert cars to get out of his way.
That made the arrival in one of the most scenic airports in the world, just as a big red sun was coming up, all the more appealing.
Although Nice is a couple hundred miles north of Rome at the top of the Mediterranean Sea, it has an instantly more tropical feel. More palm trees, more tropical plants and flowers. And, it didn’t hurt to have a very warm sun in a cloudless sky.
While waiting for our apartment, we first visited the open air market, where dozens of vendors offer dazzling displays of fruits, veggies and flowers. It is open every day except Monday when an antiques market takes its place. It opens at 5 a.m.
We quickly met two other families renting apartments from the same landlord, one from England, the other the Netherlands. We shared suggestions on things to see and do.
Although Monaco is on everyone’s list, just getting out and enjoying nice warm weather in a beautiful seaside area that is the center of the French Riviera seemed to be the lure for everyone.
We spoke to an American-born lady, who has lived here for 15 years, and has seen snow once. Nice, for whatever reason, by far enjoys the warmest Mediterranean climate for its latitude.
It was that weather and natural beauty (ocean with mountains to the north), that attracted the French elite in the late 1700’s to begin establishing summer homes here. They were here primarily for the weather, not the water, so they built homes initially on higher ground away from the water. When the landmark Negresso Hotel, located across from the beach, was built in 1913, it fronted a back street and didn’t even have a beachfront entrance. Dockworkers and fishermen were the only ones who lived by the sea. Today, you will notice a big change from those days with all of the magnificent villas and mansions along the waterfront.
By early afternoon, we were walking along the Promenade, a very long pedestrian and bicycle path between the beach and the city’s main thoroughfare. It runs a few miles, and is a very busy area, but be prepared to see topless female sunbathers (as is the case with many of the French Riviera beaches). And, although this is only a sub-tropical climate, a very warm summer has kept water temperatures high enough to still attract the many swimmers we saw Saturday.
We are staying in the old town, where its history and city fortress walls date back to the Middle Ages. It is a very busy and popular area and is a magnet for most of the tourists who come to this fairly large city. In fact, this is the second busiest city in France (after Paris). Much of the area around this relatively small area is more modern; a lot of the older buildings were destroyed by Allied bombing in WWI.
One tradition that has existed for more than 150 years, and one that made us jump as we arrived in our apartment, is the daily firing of a canon at noon sharp from a castle on top of a nearby hill, a reminder, at least in 1860, for local people to have lunch on time.
Or, in our case, having gelato on time. Ironically, Greg and Sue, and Greg’s sister, in the past have enjoyed gelato at a place called Finocchio’s in the old town. It offers 100 flavors of their own homemade gelato every day. And, purely by coincidence, our apartment, booked on airbnb, ended up being located right above the business.