The longest train ride I ever took during my semester abroad was to Nice, the coastal city bordering the French Riviera in southeastern France, which took just over four hours from Milan. (The price of a train ticket was about a fifth of the price of that for airfare). Nice is the fifth most populous city in France and the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast. There is such a cheerful atmosphere in the city, filled largely by bright and colorful buildings defining very narrow streets, that I would say that Nice is my favourite French city thus far. Here are my top recommendations when visiting Nice:
- Hike up to Château de Nice: Hiking up to the top of the Nice castle is well worth the trek, as it offers a stunning panoramic view of the entire bay and town. The original site of Castle Hill was formerly used as an impregnable citadel; since its dismantling in 1706, it’s now been transformed to a public park and trail for locals and tourists alike.
- Nice Port: The port is the perfect spot to lie down by the water on a lazy afternoon. The water is so blue and clear, and this is also the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
- Vieux-Ville: this part of Nice has apparently barely changed since the 1700’s. Its streets are filled with charming restaurants, boutiques, and bars. There are also tons of bakeries and coffee shops, offering delicious French pastries.
- Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: This lovely town costs only 1.50 euros by bus from Nice and takes about 30 minutes. One of the top things to do in Cap Ferrat is to visit the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, also called villa Île-de-France. The villa was designed by French architect Aaron Messiah, and built between 1905 and 1912 by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild. There are nine spectacular gardens in the villa, each with a different theme: Florentine, Spanish, Garden à la française, exotic, a stone garden, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, Provençal and a garden de Sèvres.
- French Riviera Bike Tour: This was likely one of my favourite activities I had done in Europe, as the view all along the Riviera as we biked was absolutely stunning. I would highly recommend taking an electric bike tour, because many of the roads we took were not properly fitted for bikes yet necessary to cross in order to continue along the Riviera. Joining a tour also reduces the stress of having to navigate unfamiliar roads on a bike.
- Le Frog is a restaurant in Vieux-Ville that is famous for its preparation of the French delicacy, frog legs. We found frog legs to taste like chicken; they were really tender on the inside and well-crisped on the exterior. All in all, they were quite good and we were happy that we go to try them in France, although it’s likely not something that we would actively seek out again. Another French delicacy we tried here was escargots. The chewy texture is what often throws people off, although I quite enjoyed them, especially prepared with olive oil, garlic, herbs, and salt & pepper.
- Cours Saleya is a market in the heart of Vieux-Ville, and one of the most colourful markets I’ve ever visited. It’s open everyday of the week except Mondays, and always tends to be filled with crowds of locals and tourists doing their shopping or grabbing a quick bite. A regional specialty dish to try here is Socca, a flat pancake made of chickpea flour and olive oil, traditionally baked over fire. There was a huge line for it at the market, and it was served piping hot (almost too hot to eat).
- Sejour Cafe, a beautiful French restaurant in Vieux-Ville, has one of the best services that I’ve ever experienced in an European restaurant. The staff was very friendly and patient in explaining the restaurant’s different offerings. We ordered the Pesto Octopus Salad, which was impressively tender, Foie Gras, which was insanely rich yet so tasty, and the Beef Tartar, which was very fresh and flavorful.