A few reasons why Nice actually *is* nice...

Our Europe trip route this summer was designed for the most part to reach locations that we had not been to before in Europe, including some we had always wanted to visit. Nice was one of those spots for me. I think my perception of Nice changed over time, the more I learned about it, but I still wanted to check it out. Ten years ago, Nice to me was a beachy, beautiful French resort town sparkling with fresh food, crystal waters and soft sand. The more I learned about it, I discovered that Nice maybe used to be that 75 years ago, but it soon evolved into a Fort Lauderdale of Europe. However, as much as Fort Lauderdale doesn't sound all that appealing to me (especially when T and I have tried to avoid crowded cities), I still wanted to give it a fair chance. 

We arrived in Nice from the Cinque Terre around 3 in the afternoon, as it was about a 3.5 hour drive from the Italian Riviera coastline. Not a bad drive. Unfortunately it's very expensive to drive on the Italian toll roads (about 30 Euros for 3 hours); however, they are SO efficient, fast, etc. that you really do get far in a short amount of time so it makes it worthwhile when you've just been driving switchbacks and dirt roads for the last few weeks...

I found a cute place on TripAdvisor a few months back called the Nice Garden Hotel which was rated #2 at the time in the city of Nice based on its reviews. Nice is an expensive city to stay in as there are several large chain hotels, many sub-par hotels and some very, very glamorous (and spendy) waterfront hotels as well. Obviously Nice draws in the rich and famous due to its proximity to Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and St. Tropez, so it's hard to find something clean, comfortable and cheap at the same time. Our hotel has turned out to be so lovely. It is located right in the center of Nice in an ideal location, two blocks from the beach and no more than a 15 minute walk to anything we would want to see in any part of the city. The front door actually looks terrible, stuck between a smoke shop and a pet store, and as soon as we pulled up I thought, "Did I make a mistake?!?" There was no way I would ever pick this hotel just by passing it by on the street, but looks can be deceiving...

We pushed through two separate sets of locked doors to reach the lobby of the hotel, and that's where is appeared to be a pearl inside of an oyster. It is the most adorable French hotel, so quaint, air conditioned and with large, comfortable rooms and sweet service by the owners (a mother and her daughter). Definitely the best choice that we could make for our visit to Nice and for a great price as well. If anything, we thought, we will just stay holed up in our room overlooking a beautiful garden and take refuge from the busy and touristy center!

I was initially very unimpressed with Nice. It literally looked like Ft. Lauderdale when we pulled in, the streets in the middle & "new" parts were quite dirty and littered, there were dozens upon dozens of American chain restaurants, and hawkers pawning off swim toys and Cuban hats wherever we turned. Not to mention that it's been incredibly hot and muggy. The unfortunate part is that our hotel is located right in the center of this unappealing side of Nice. There is also a pedestrian-only walkway near our hotel that has all of the cheap and tacky shops you could ever want, people handing you brochures for parties that night, touristy restaurants with menus showing pictures of the food and mimes trying to take their pictures with you for 1 euro each. The exact type of place we try to avoid.

We were starving though when we arrived and asked our hotel where we could get lunch nearby. Unfortunately there really was no other option except to eat at the tourist spot, so we chose what we thought was the best, and ended up being the worst and most expensive. Beware of eating in touristy spots, as they charge you for sitting at their tables, charge you for bread and water (which they do in Italy called a coperto, but they don't do anywhere in France except the tourist spots) and charge a crazy amount for food and drinks. One salad and a San Pellegrino cost us almost $30. Sigh.

You can see the kind of touristy shops that line this block... probably not the best choice for a restaurant and we quickly learned that when we saw the bill!

After eating lunch, we asked our hotelier to secure us reservations at a locally recommended restaurant, and we were not disappointed. It was a small restaurant called Le Petite Cafe, and we received the most hospitable and sincere service that I can remember in recent memory from a restaurant in France. It was also delightful to have an actual steak and potatoes with a salad, and not have pasta and bread! I do love Italian food, but it became rather cumbersome to eat pasta, tomatoes, bread and cheese every meal for over two weeks...

Menu at Le Petite Cafe

Back in Italy I had the foresight to book a bike tour of Nice since we knew virtually nothing about the city and knew that a bike tour would be a great way to get oriented and at least see parts we may not have discovered. Boy was it a great option in this particular city. Our opinion of Nice vastly changed based on where we were taken and what we saw. I guess our area of Nice is still in a "good" location, but is touristy since it's near the water. All we had to do was venture 1 or 2 kilometers to the left and we ended up in exactly the type of area we would have wanted to spend our time in-- the old city of Nice. This was France. The small alleys, the Belle Epoque architecture, the fresh markets, the small bistros, the little shops with soaps, lotions, pastries, herbs and more... all of the best restaurants we have eaten at in France so far have been in the old town, including the best gelato in all of Italy and France combined!

Views from the top of Nice, courtesy of our bike tour

Worth the ride up... and included free Coca-cola! :)

The Nice harbor, the "cheapest" place to dock a boat, at $6,000 euros a week for the mega-yachts

Our guide told us that yacht costs approximately 60 million euros. The rule of thumb is 1 million per meter for each yacht, and that yacht is about 60 meters long...

The oldest shop in Nice in its original form, also happens to be a confectionary which was a favorite of the queen when she was young. 

Some of the architecture of old town Nice

What once was the largest opera house in France, now second only to Paris

The hotel that started the whole "summer holiday" in Nice trend 
Many of the windows on the building are fake-- it was a big part of the development of the city, nearly 80% of buildings in Nice have painted on windows and decor. It is an art form called Tromp L'oeil which has to do with things not appearing as they seem and tricking your eyes. Kind of like Disneyland... :)

Our guide gave us historical information on the architecture of Nice, the history of Nice (it has only been owned by the French for 150 years...), and then finished our tour by taking us to the top of a very large hill to take in some beautiful views of the entire town. He gave us a list of restaurants that they recommend that are locals-only (and they really don't get any kickbacks from their recommendations). Their recommendations couldn't have been more spot-on. Cozy, delicious, great service and no English menus. :) Just the way we like it. Nice has several food specialties as well and Timothy tried a food called Socca, which is like a flour cake that you can fill with various different ingredients like a fried tortilla or crepe. The best Socca place in all of Nice (if you like Socca) is in the old town called Bella Soca. The best gelato place (literally won the award for best gelato in all of France this year is called Roberto 1er and was definitely the best gelato we had this entire trip. We've already been back twice!

For dinner last night we ate at a wonderful restaurant called Oliviera which is owned and run by a husband and wife. The husband takes the orders and serves the food, and the wife cooks it, one by one. They only have eight tables in their restaurant and they don't "turn over" tables, as the husband put it. They are also only open for three hours for dinner and closed Sundays & Mondays. That's how you know you're getting a great restaurant. They let you have your table for the entire night, and he said, "We're really in the olive oil business but we love food. So we are happy. We don't need to turn over tables!"

When we sat down he brought us a small menu in French and then kindly said, "Don't worry, I'll be back to help!" as he scurried off to assist other guests. I consulted my Google Translate app which has been wonderful, so by the time he came back I already knew what everything on the menu was. But I didn't let him know my secret. ;) He would come by all of the tables serving other guests their food and say, "This is the pesto tagliatelle, it's delicious," or "This is the ravioli, I'll be right back," so we could see what each item was when he brought it to other people. It was a sweet gesture. When we were ready to order, after each thing I pointed out that we would like, he said, "Oh, you will love! Oh this is delicious. Oh, that is so great." and you could tell he was so, so passionate about their food. I highly, highly, highly recommend a visit to Oliviera if you visit Nice. It was a really memorable meal with great food and service-- and it's fun to support a couple like that. :)

Our very passionate server at Oliviera and the owner... telling another guest "You will love1"

This dish was called "Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes." Picked fresh from their personal garden that afternoon... our server said, "These are amazing. You will love!" and made a kissing gesture with his lips. :) 

We asked our bike tour guide before we departed yesterday, "Please please please recommend a restaurant that serves a proper breakfast... you have no idea how much we can't stand to eat another croissant!" He recommended a popular place called "Wazo" which is a brunch spot. It was AMAZING. Probably similar to anything we could have back home but unlike anything we have eaten on this trip. They just don't do bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, etc., here and Wazo did. Timothy also had a bacon breakfast sandwich which was incredible as well. I am so tempted to go back there again tomorrow before we head to Aix-en-Provence just to savor the deliciousness of a fresh egg and coffee... I will never take it for granted again!

I am still drooling looking at this!

After brunch today we shopped all around Nice off the Place Massena, the Galeries Lafeyette, in old town and at the Cours Saleya. It was a perfect place to shop for exactly the types of small French goods I was looking for: spices, soaps, home wares and lotions. I couldn't resist a stay away from L'Occitane en Provence which is my favorite store of all time. :)

Cours Saleya 
One of the many patisseries and confectionaries in town

Shopping was a success today!

My new favorite store!

We leave tomorrow but still have a great dinner on the agenda-- hopefully it lives up to the expectations we have for it since we've had such great meals so far in Nice!

If you plan to visit Nice, I have a few pieces of advice depending on your travel style:

1) Stay at the Nice Garden Hotel (seriously: The best price for this kind of hotel and location in Nice, despite the Pizza Hut next door...) It really is primo for seeing and doing all of the things Nice is known for. And it's two blocks from the Promenade Anglais and beach.

2) Take the bike tour of Nice! It was flat nearly the entire time and only a little hilly (in which everyone including the guide got off and walked their bikes up for a few meters)

3) Eat in the old town and be sure and make reservations a few days ahead of time

4) Shop in the old town or at Galeries Lafeyette 

5) Take the food tasting tour of Nice (we heard this was great  but did not have the time to do it. It's offered by the same company who ran our bike tour and there were many repeat guests!)

Nice has so much charm and beauty that extends past it's crowded city center and "new" parts that really are quite tacky and run down Florida beach-like. There are so many hidden gems in Nice that make a visit very worthwhile.

(We chose not to visit Monaco, St. Tropez, Cannes or Antibes on this trip... mostly for lack of time but also because we didn't want the temptation of jealousy for those mega-yachts lining the harbors! ;) However, we do know that they are close and very easy to reach from Nice train stations and buses in case they are cities you do want to visit.)

Strolling the waterfront Promenade des Anglais is also a fun thing to do after dinner in the evenings

The famous Le Negresco hotel

In my opinion, Nice really is a nice place to visit for a few days.

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