Easily being able to travel by rail through diverse regions, each with a unique landscape and local culture is one of the multitude of reasons why I love France. In the morning you can sip espresso while trying not to spill crumbs from a flaky croissant at a café in the French capital. Then five hours later you’re raising a glass of cold rosé over a plate of calamari as you watch the sun set over a pebbled beach in the Mediterranean. This past summer, I was able to share that love with my family who stayed with me in Paris and Nice. However, the trains didn’t always work in our favor…
Traveling to Nice
After Paris, most people are familiar with the Riviera as far as French tourist destinations go. The Côte d’Azur is known as the place where celebrities vacation and where all the Parisians flock to during their August holidays. After five years in France, I still hadn’t traveled that far east along the coast (I don’t think Marseille counts as part of the Riviera). Spending two years living in the south in Perpignan, I also had access to the Mediterranean, so Nice wasn’t on the top of my list of places to see.
My family planned two weeks of traveling starting with visiting me in Paris, then sightseeing in the Alps of Central Europe. My dad wanted to see some other parts of France and had his eye on Corsica, but since we were going to see so many places in a short amount of time, we decided on Nice since it is a little less out of the way than Corsica.
Even though I rave about train travel, the French rail network often has issues; My family experienced the joys of traveling with SNCF when we had a one-hour delay. Thankfully, we were able to get 25% of our ticket cost reimbursed through the G30 guarantee. Once we finally reached Nice, we checked into our funky boutique hotel, Le Meurice, then headed straight to the beach, which was just a five-minute walk away.
Sunset in Nice
A beachfront Italian restaurant called Le Galet caught our eye, but unsurprisingly there were no tables left since it was a Friday evening. Fortunately, they told us that we could still have drinks at the lounge and order pizza starting from 7pm. The lounge was not super crowded since we were there a little early, so we were able to snag a prime spot right in front of the water. More people arrived closer to sunset.
Before our pizza came out, my dad and I took turns in the water, which was warm and salty. I felt blissful effortlessly floating in the azure waves as the sky turned from blue to shades of orange and pink. I regretted not swimming longer, but I’m still thankful I got to dip my toes in sea once more. Even though I had been off from work for a couple of weeks, it wasn’t until I was in Nice that I truly felt like I was on vacation. With saltwater in my hair and a strawberry mojito in hand, I felt relaxed watching and listening to the percussion of the pebbles tumbling with each crash of a wave.
I also experienced the most gorgeous sunset of the summer. There weren’t any dramatic clouds or deep red colors, but the way the light shone on the pale blue ripples was mesmerizing. Minute by minute there was a subtle change that I attempted to capture with my camera lens. In this moment, I thought Nice was pretty nice.
Sightseeing in Nice
The next day we had a full day to explore, so after breakfast at a little café, we made our way up la Colline du Chatêau to see the iconic views of Nice from above. It was a pretty walk, but it was sweltering that day. I’m glad we went in the morning because it would have been miserable in the afternoon and more crowded as well. Thankfully, there was a water fountain and some cafes in the park, so I didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion. There was also an archeological site there too that we saw some people studying.
Once we made it back downhill, we walked through the market. The sights and smells of strands of garlic, heirloom tomatoes, freshly made socca, nougat, Savon de Marseille, and fresh flowers reminded me of why I love French farmers’ markets. In markets you know where everything comes from, whether it’s local and homegrown or homemade. Markets are also wonderful places to practice your French and get to know the people in the region.
Half Day Trip to Menton
Since we only had one more afternoon left in Nice, we debated on what to do next . We could relax and go swimming again, or we could check out one of the smaller towns nearby. We seriously considered going to Monaco just so we could add another country to our list. We almost didn’t go, but on a whim we hopped on a train to Menton. Just 30 minutes away from Nice, this colorful seaside town was a place I have been wanting to visit for a while now. It’s on the border with Italy and is known for its lemons.
We walked from the train station to the instafamous Basilique Saint-Michel Archange which took us about 20 minutes. Menton seemed a lot larger than what I pictured in my head. Before having lunch we strolled through a touristy street and had lemon slushies. Since it was getting close to 2pm we figured we should try to find somewhere to eat. We sat down at one place, but it was kind of dusty and we didn’t get good vibes so we went on to look for somewhere else. We walked around a bit more and found an Italian restaurant in a little square, but it was in a touristy area, so while the location was nice, the food was bland.
After lunch it started to rain, so we planned to buy some souvenirs before taking the train back to Nice. We stumbled into Au Pays du Citron where we sampled limoncello and purchased other lemony gifts. One of the workers there told us that they offered tours and a tasting at their lemon farm, but sadly for us it was too late in the day.
There did end up being some thunder and lighting, but we made it back to the train station safely. The ride back to Nice was not very enjoyable however; since there are no assigned seats on the regional trains and SNCF will oversell tickets. It was very crowded and people in the train were very annoyed because it was cramped and hot. Back in Nice, we went to another restaurant because my dad was still hungry after not enjoying his salad at the mediocre place we went to in Menton. I ordered a molten chocolate cake since I needed some comfort food after feeling anxious on the train.
Although the end of our two days in the French Riviera was somewhat disappointing, I’m still thankful for that first night with the sunset swim. I for sure want to go back to Menton someday, but hopefully next time I’ll have more time to get out of the touristy area and explore the streets of the old town and make reservations at a decent place for lunch!
Thank you so much for reading and make sure you are following the blog if you’d like to know where else my family ended up going!
À la prochaine,