Every time we come here, the same thing happens:
Me: Why don’t we live in Nice?
Keith: Don’t know, love.
We bloody love Nice. We’ve been here quite a few times and it’s always just brilliant. I can’t put my finger on what it is that we love so much about Nice. It is quite a lot like Brighton with sun, but surely that can’t be it? Can it? We have come to the conclusion that we like everywhere that’s like Brighton with sun, so maybe that’s part of it, but Nice is just small enough, cool enough, sunny enough and interesting enough to keep us entertained. This visit was at the end of a weird and very busy week so I hadn’t had time to get my head around the fact that we were going away.
We set off at 4am to Gatwick and halfway through the afternoon, I found myself laughing out loud shouting ‘We’re in Nice’ as the reality finally hit me. I once had a minor mental breakdown here on my own (after Keith had caught an earlier flight home than me to go somewhere for work) and almost didn’t come home. Still wonder if I made the right choice. By now I would have fitted right in with the leathery elderly gents and ladies who frequent the beach during the day and probably sleep under a sunbed at night just to get their fix.
Who could not love a place where you can swim in the sea and get horrifically sunburned within an hour in October. Idiots.
I first came to Nice 18 years ago in a time when it had a bad reputation. Guidebooks warned of pickpockets, dodgy happenings on the beach and a general sense that you needed to watch your back. It was a place where no one really wanted to go. Seedy, sleazy and full of dog shit. Since then, Nice has cleaned up its act and is now a very nice place to be. The city has had a whole bunch of money pumped into its redevelopment including a tram network, multiple public pieces of art and most recently, a fantastic new park in the middle of the city complete with squirty fountains and enormous wooden creatures for kids to climb all over.
This time we’re here on a budget as this is our new existence. This trip was booked when we still had jobs and cash so is a big of a hangover from the ‘Old Life’, but it was paid for so we had to come. In actual fact, we never spend much money in Nice. Buses to anywhere along the whole Cote D’Azur only cost €1.50. There’s something really joyful about going to Monaco on a bus for €1.50 and buying nothing more than an ice cream in the most stupidly, tackily affluent place in Europe. Once we went to the Casino at Monte Carlo and spent €5 on the slot machines. Living dangerously and hoping that some multi-billionaire would decide that his ‘Lady Luck’ for the day was a scruffy, slightly overweight sunburned middle-aged woman. Let me dream.
This weekend we went in the other direction west to St Paul de Vence, made famous by none other than Bill Wyman in his classic hit, Je suis un rock star. It goes like this:
Je suis un rock star, j’avez une residence,Je habitez la dans la south de France,Voulez-vous partir with me,And come and restez la with me in Vence.
I knew the words without having to look them up because I remember reading and learning them from Smash Hits in 1981, and despite not remembering what I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow, I do know all the lyrics of Je suis un rock star. Thanks, brain, most helpful choice of data storage criteria applied there.
Actually St Paul de Vence is made more famous by the likes of Chagall, Picasso and Matisse who all shacked up there for quite some time and have now turned the place in a crumbly bunch of expensive art galleries and posh restaurants. It is a really pretty place perched on top of an outcrop of rock an hour on the bus from Nice.
It is fair to say that house prices in St Paul de Vence are what you might call ‘bloody ridiculous’. This little number is up for sale for €450,000 and you don’t even get the shop underneath in order to sell overpriced Matisse prints in order to pay your astronomical mortgage. Worthing suddenly looks like excellent value, despite the lack of sun, romance, character… I’ll stop there before I depress myself.
In St Paul de Vence, I think I found my calling in life. Two of my best favourite things in life are French villages and tidying up. So, what better job could there be than a French village hooverer? That was his real job. I would bloody love that. I wonder what qualifications you need. I would have got a better picture, but the fella saw me following him pretending to take photos of the surrounding houses unconvincingly. He could probably tell I was after his job.
St Paul de Vence also progressed a new hobby which we started in Somo, near Santander on our bike trip: Life imitates art. I think this could catch on and go viral. I am wondering how best to set up a platform for other contributions to this fascinating new trend.
Once we returned to Nice from St Paul de Vence we found that we couldn’t stop.
We also have a favourite jam shop in Nice which sells a particular Lavendar jam that Keith is somewhat partial to.
The shop is run by the owner and jam-maker himself who revealed himself on this visit as what can only be described as ‘a bit right wing’ on this occasion. I have read that the French do not balk at the topic of politics in polite conversation as we Brits might and quite enjoy a rousing debate, feeling no compulsion to agree out of good manners with what is being said. We discovered that Jam Man had no problem with contributing to the payment of welfare benefits to the unemployed, as long as they didn’t drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. He was positive about Sarkosy and had nothing but ‘boffs’ and disdain for Hollande. He didn’t mind the Polish, but wasn’t so keen on the Romanians or the Arabs, but none of these were as bad as the Russians, who were mafia and had too much money and no manners. If we’d have stayed longer I think we could have a jolly old time finding out his views on gay marriage. Oh, and he thought David Cameron was a good bloke. He does make lovely jam though. Keith has asked him for job in his jam shop twice but he either thinks we’re joking or is ignoring us.
We always have ice cream in Nice. Our usual summertime dinner is take-away pizza, bottle of €1 fizzy wine, bottle of cassis and two chocolate moelleux puddings from the Lac Chocolatier shop in the old town, whilst sitting on the beach watching the sun go down, with the option of an evening swim while you’re at it. It’s an expensive night out for €17, but sometimes you just gotta push the boat out.
Early sunsets in October mean no beach dinners this time but we managed an ice cream from our up-until-now favourite ice cream shop, which we will never visit again because the woman behind the counter wouldn’t let me take a photo of the ice cream in the shop, even though I was buying one, and even though publishing it on this blog would have rocketed her profits by at least €2 a year for the rest of her life. So, screw her. We shall go elsewhere. Yes, I am that churlish, don’t mess with me. Here is a photo of some cakes from the lovely Lac Chocolatier who did let me take a photo. Shame they don’t sell ice cream, but loads of other places do in Nice, it’s a bit of a thing (near to Italian border).
We also came home with a new addition to our family on this trip. Sitting on the pavement all alone, we found Guillaume.
He wasn’t called Guillaume when we found him (or was he?), but he didn’t look like his rightful owner would come back and get him, so we rescued him. Is he a lamb? Is he a dog? The jury is out, but he is Guillaume and he now lives in Worthing. Considering he used to live in Nice, I’m not sure we’ve done him any favours now I come to think of it.
Nice is the kind of place that doesn’t have a ton of must-sees, it’s perfectly fine to just wander. There’s the Vieux Ville (Old Town), the Promenade des Anglais, the beach, the port, the cheap bus rides to anywhere along the coast in both directions, the food, the markets; really just the general laid-back ambience of a warm seaside city.
As someone once said: ‘If you’re tired of Nice, you’re tired of ice cream’.
I think it was me.
Cost of trip:
Flights cost us £79.00 each – British Airways out, Easyjet back. We walked from the airport to our accommodation- Nice airport is about 4 miles along the beach from the centre. Bus ticket in costs €6 each (saving of €24). We decided to save the money and got somewhere to stay mid-way between airport and centre so neither felt too far in one stretch. We got a studio at the Adagio Access Nice Magnan which wasn’t the cheapest at £70.00 per night (Airbnb had studios for €34 a night when I looked later). Advantange of the apartment was that it had a kitchen including fridge, hotplate and microwave. This saved us a whopping fortune on hotel breakfast (saving of €34.60 in our aparthotel) and dinners out. We spent a total of €60 in 3 days. This bought us 2 x breakfasts for two people, 3 x lunches for two, 2 x dinners for two, bus tickets to/from St Paul de Vence, 2 x ice creams. We ate granola, yogurt, juice, coffee, rotisserie chicken, Dauphinoise potatoes, salad, Camembert, ham, tomatoes, bread, chocolate pudding, chocolate, soup and fromage blanc. We always take plastic cutlery and a tupperware box for storing, carrying and mixing stuff. Fill it with pants and socks in your luggage and it takes up no room.
The Cote D’Azur, where even the toilets have charm.