A long journey to happiness (part one)

In June 2007 we finally found the apartment we wanted to buy!

This had been a long process which at times had seemed a pipe dream destined to fail. We had a very precise budget with no room for manoeuvre. Our money came from our joint inheritances and we wanted to put this money into something our parents would have appreciated (and also to stop me gradually just spending it).

After a bleak and chilly winter in 2005 here in Brighton we longed to see some sunshine and blue skies and had spent a few days in Malaga city, which was brilliant and which we loved. So the first location in our search for a foreign pied a terre was this beautiful city. We even spent two terms going to Spanish evening classes in order that we could at least greet and thank people and order food and drink. However  try as we might we found our lack (to put it mildly) of fluency was a big drawback. We found that we could come up with French phrases from our school-days more readily than recently learned Spanish ones.

Early in December 2006 air fares to Malaga were really high and we discovered by chance that flights to Nice were much more reasonable and moreover there was a good deal on at the Hotel Beau Rivage which was where Matisse had lived and painted…surely a good sign! We booked 5 days.

I was completely amazed by the flight along the Esterel coast and descent into Nice airport. Over the glowing pink and red of the Esterel hills, ever lower and lower over the bright blue sea, hugging the bays and islands of the Mediterranean, we seemed to hover just above the waves until suddenly there was the airport looking like a pancake jutting out into the beautiful sea.

Through customs and onto the bus and we were once again close to the sparkling sea and palm trees of Nice. So exciting!

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and wandered down to the beach. Here we took our coats off and sat on the pebbles against the wall on Castel beach, feeling the warm sun relaxing our chilly English bodies.

Bliss.

For the next few days we delighted in the colours, tastes, smells and pace of life in Nice.

Over Christmas we discussed going back to Nice in order re-learn the French we’d forgotten from schooldays. After some research on the part of my husband in February 2007 we were on our way to Nice to study for 4 weeks at the Azur Lingua language school.

skies above Nice

Looking west from the Promenade des Anglais on a beautiful evening, my son took these stunning photos as planes headed towards the airport which spreads out into the sea like a large floating mat.

It’s funny how mesmerising it can be just to sit and watch these large noisy aircraft fly in, getting ever lower and lower till they merge with the airport in the distance.

view from a hill

From the Colline du Chateau, which rises above the easterly end of the Cours Saleya you can gaze down on Nice in a 360 degree arc. To the west the rooftops of the old town and the curve of the Baie des Anges are spread out below you.

 

Looking east from the Colline you have a brilliant view of the harbour and the spectacular boats tied up there – which one would you choose for your sea-trip? More realistically you could take a cruise to Corsica on one of the yellow striped ferries!

eastwards along the coast

Do you fancy a bus ride? Eastwards along the coast from Nice is Villefranche-sur-Mer, an attractive small town built on the slopes of the hill tumbling down to the sea.  The train can also take you there but you would miss the beautiful views of the sea and coastline – including a spectacular view of the port and the Baie des Anges as you head out of town. The ligne d’azur 100 and the smaller bus 81 both take the route along the Corniche Inférieure, or Basse-Corniche, the lowest and easiest to drive along of the three coastal routes. From Villefranche the 100  continues to Monaco and Menton, whereas the 81 calls in at Beaulieu and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat all well worth a visit.

The deep harbour means that Villefranche is a favourite stopping off point for cruise liners, so it can get very busy in the summer months but there are plenty of  cafés and restaurants both in the town near the bus stop and also down along the harbourside.

At one end of the harbour is a narrow beach with gravelly sand, perfect for young children and sunbathers.

describing Nice

The colours of Nice are the terracotta, yellow ochre and olive green of the buildings and the turquoise and azure blue of the sea

The smells of Nice are garlic, fresh herbs, fish, daube, cheese, coffee, newly baked baguettes …

The sounds of Nice are the rush of the waves over the pebbles, the friendly voices of the people, the mixture of languages and the niçois  accent.

beautiful tomatoes!

I love these beautiful tomatoes – they look so pretty sliced across the middle – and taste delicious sprinkled with salt, freshly ground black pepper, a generous splash of olive oil and some basil leaves…heaven on a plate…just add a crunchy baguette and you have the perfect lunch

What’s your favourite simple lunch?

Breakfast on the beach

So many beach bars and restaurants to choose from for a hedonistic breakfast on the beach! Of course the easiest solution could be to pick up a croissant or baguette from your boulangerie on your way down and sit on the pebbles as near to the waves and sound of the sea as possible.

However for comfort and a touch of luxury my favourite place recently has to be Hi Beach, found just west of Boulevard Gambetta. With the stylish loungers and parasols matching the turquoise of the sea this is a beautiful place to relax.

What to do if it’s wet…

Yes, it sometimes rains in Nice…

One of my favourite places for a wet afternoon is the Rialto cinema on Rue de Rivoli

And I have to admit that the reason I prefer this cinema to all the other brilliant cinemas in Nice is because it’s nearest to our apartment so I don’t get so wet going there…and because they have films in the orignal language –  Version Originale or VO. These are latest releases not some ancient old dusty ones! It’s a very comfortable popular cinema with several screens.

Find a list here of all Nice’s cinemas with up-to-date information of the films currently being shown:

http://www.cote.azur.fr/cinema

Renoir’s house in Cagnes-sur-Mer

Confusingly Cagnes-sur-Mer is not by the sea – that’s Cros de Cagnes! It’s worth the walk up the winding road (with no pavements) to find Renoir’s house and beautiful garden.

The house is open to the public in the summer (though it’s advisable to check opening times first at the tourist office). Many of Renoir’s paintings are on the walls and in his studio you’ll imagine he’s about to continue painting.

I love the garden even more than the house – it’s a beautiful peaceful place with the most amazing ancient olive trees

from the garden you have a great view of Haut-de-Cagnes which is the oldest and highest part of the town.

There is a free shuttle bus which takes you at break-neck speed from the bus station up the winding narrow streets to the top of the old town where the museum is and back down again even faster…

 

Nice Airport

One of the great things about Nice is how close the airport is to the city – just a 15 – 20 minute bus ride direct into the centre along the palm-tree-lined Promenade des Anglais.

On your flight out of Nice the airport is a pleasant place to await your flight.  If you have time before going through security go along to the upper level by the KLM desk and go up the very long escalator (or in the lift) to the top floor where you’ll find several cafes and a bar – with a wonderful view of the arriving and departing planes.