May 24, 2011

Exploring Nice

Nice, May 2010 - We were travelling on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy, having arrived on the French Riviera the night before. I had made great plans for our free day in Nice, but I was starting to feel a little worn out by the touring pace we had kept in London and Paris for the past week. And Nice was a charming city that begged for some wandering and aimless exploring.

Nice Craft Market

So we abandoned the plan (a good reason to come back again!) and started our morning in the market square where vendors sold Provencal crafts and jewellery. At one point a roving choir broke out into song to the delight of shoppers.

Marché aux Fleurs, Nice

Then we made our way past the Marché aux Fleurs, filled with vibrant bougainvillea, jasmine, peonies and roses, to the Cours Saleya Market.

Cours Saleya Market, Nice

Courgette Flowers

The stalls were a feast for the senses: ripe red tomatoes, an array of green and black olives, yellow courgette flowers, sprigs and sachets of dried lavender, Provencal herbs and salts from the Camargue and Egypt, and freshly caught fish and octopus displayed on beds of crushed ice.

Lavender Products from Provence

The guidebooks that I had read recommended socca, a Provencal street food similar to a flat pancake, made of chickpeas, garlic and olive oil.

Chez Thereza, Cours Saleya Market

Cooked on a large round pan like a pizza, it was delivered hot to the market by bicycle. And there was Thereza herself, of Chez Thereza, serving up slices of socca in crisp white paper.


After we had browsed all of the market stalls, we headed for the Promenade des Anglais to survey the damage caused by the freak wave a few days earlier. Bulldozers were clearing debris on the rocky beach, and the Castel Plage Restaurant where I had hoped to dine was closed, their beachfront terrace in tatters. The little tourist train was also not running.

Overhead we could see frequent planes descending to the nearby Nice airport, and I had to wonder which celebrity might be arriving for the Cannes Film Festival taking place next week.

Next we headed around the cape towards the port. Today was Victory Day, and the War Memorial was draped in the French flag.

Victory Day at the NiceWar Memorial

Near the harbour, we found a sunny table outside Bliss Restaurant and ordered a tasty Margherita pizza with olives. As we sat there enjoying our lunch we watched the passing parade of sports cars and a Segway tour roll by.

Riviera Traffic

Many hotels in France and Italy now control electrical use in guest rooms by requiring that the key card be inserted into a slot to turn on the power supply. I discovered this fact when I left my camera battery to recharge while we were out exploring, and nothing happened once the key card had been removed from the slot. Recharging would have to be an overnight task.

After a long Canadian winter, and the harsh spring weather we had encountered in London and Paris, the balmy temperatures and the profusion of flowers and palm trees were a welcome change.

Roses Bloom in Nice

We visited Maison Auer, a purveyor of fine chocolate and candied fruits in Nice since 1820. To this day I don't understand how I, a confirmed chocoholic, did not make a purchase here. I must have been overwhelmed by the visual feast.

Maison Auer Chocolatier, Nice

Inside the shop, there was  a bird house constructed of chocolate on display.

Maison Auer Chocolatier

Later we joined the evening's optional excursion (65 euros) to the Fragonard Perfume Factory, followed by dinner in the hilltop village of Eze.

The Road to Eze

Following the tour, we were given time to sample the fragrances and make purchases before setting out to the restaurant, L'Auberge du Cheval Blanc.

Fragonard Perfume Factory, Eze

There was a Medieval festival taking place in the square in front of the restaurant in Eze that night. The ground was covered in straw, and people dressed in costumes from the Middle Ages tended to fires smoking under the falling rain.

We had a great table, next to the window overlooking a ravine. We were offered several choices from the menu. I enjoyed the Salade Nicoise, Coq au Vin and Chocolate Mousse. Optional tour dinners included wine, and our tour director's "uncle" provided entertainment with his accordion. So everyone had a great time even though the rain prevented us from touring the village of Eze.

Local Entertainment in Eze

Eze Village Church

Back at our hotel, we needed a good night of sleep as we had a long day of travel the next day. We were headed to the magical city of Venice.

Next:  Ventimiglia to Venice

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