Nice and Monaco
24.10.2011 - 28.10.2011
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The Cote d’Azur occupies the northern Mediterranean coast with famous locations such as St.Tropez and Cannes being favoured by tourists and sunseekers. For our trip in October 2011 we based ourselves in Nice, with the intention of visiting both Monaco and the hilltop mediaeval village of Eze.
Advance weather information told us that the Tuesday (after arriving on the Monday) would be wet with heavy rain being 90% guaranteed. The rest of our time in the south of France should be fine. We landed in Nice amidst average temperatures but at least it was dry. Quickly through Passport Control and the luggage was soon collected and we found our way to the public bus which would take us to the Promenade du Anglais and finding our hotel from there should be easy. And it was.
The Hotel du Suede was just one road back from the Promenade and located centrally as far as access to restaurants, shops and public transport were concerned. And by mid afternoon we were exploring the local part of the city and getting our bearings. The weather on our first afternoon (Monday) was being kinder to us than the forecast had predicted so we wandered around the city and in a circle, sussing out the buses, trams and trains for the next few days and taking in the occasional cafe stop. Eventually, we found the old quarter, at the other side of Place Massena and made a mental note to return later in the week to spend longer, Heading back towards the sea we stumbled upon Cours Saleya. Today there was a flea market but as we discovered later in the week, Cours Saleya appears to hold a different market, flowers, fruit and vegetables, meat etc; almost every day of the week.
Promenade du Anglais covers a huge stretch of coastline and we made our way back along the prom towards the hotel. Finding somewhere to eat wasn’t much of a challenge as there were restaurants and bars everywhere. The prices? Well, not as bad as I thought they would be – maybe Switzerland in August had helped make the Cote D’Azur feel comparably cheap (?). All in all, it was an encouraging first few hours in the South of France but in one way at least we knew it was the calm before the storm; literally!
And Tuesday morning it hit!! The forecasters got it right. Heavy rain and strongish winds all day. And when this type of thing happens, you have a choice although in reality there is only one thing to do : carry on regardless. We had a list of things to do and see so we changed the plans a little to try and do the indoor stuff while the heavens opened. Decent plan you may think but we discovered that most of the public places to visit are closed one day each week .................... on a Tuesday!!!!! Exceptions to this were the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Modern Arts Museum, both were on our “to see” list. However, the French authorities weren’t to be beaten. We headed off to the Cathedral only to be greeted by a notice that, due to an administrative dispute between the Russian and French administrations in Nice the Cathedral had had to be closed until further notice’. It’s supposed to be spectacular inside; I can only confirm that it’s a lovely building from the outside!
Stiff upper lip and onward!! We briefly took refuge in the Office de Tourisme near the railway station and dried off a bit before catching a tram to the Modern Arts Museum. And it was open!!!! I’m not massively into museums but for anyone that is there are museums dedicated to Chagalle and Matisse. I don’t mind a bit of modern art and the museum in Nice was good with lots of different themes. Apart from that, it helped us dry off more before we faced the elements again an hour or so later.
Day two had been a test of endurance but we came through with the added assistance of a couple of cafe stops. The hotel was a welcome sight when we eventually got back. At last we could dry out properly before finding a very (very) local restaurant to eat in that evening. And after eating, because the rain had ceased, we walked the promenade again and watched the sea crashing up the beach.
Wednesday was earmarked as the day we would visit Monaco. The skies had cleared with the heavy thick clouds of Tuesday having been blown away by the strong Mediterranean winds. The receptionist at the hotel had convinced us against taking the cheaper bus option (1 Euro) to Monaco in favour of the train (3 ½ Euros). The buses are small and always full and can take over an hour to get there whereas the train, although slightly further away from the hotel, would be the more comfortable option – so that’s what we did. We walked to Place Massena and, caught a tram to the station and waited for the next train (they run every half an hour).
Monaco, and Monte Carlo in particular, is very cool. Amazingly, the land area of Monaco is just two square kilometres. And they have crammed am awful lot of classy (and very expensive) stuff into such a small area. Even the railway station feels a bit special as you get off of the train somewhere inside the mountain upon which Monaco has been developed. Escalators take you in one of two directions, depending on where you want to begin your visit. We had decided to buy the Daily Bus Ticket which would allow us to hop on and hop off at one of the regular stops around the principality; in this way we were able to get around to everything we wanted to see easily and without wasting time. The Royal Palace, The Oceanographic Museum, The Casino, Cafe du Paris, Hotel du Paris, Port Hercule etc, were all soon ticked off, and during the various bus trips around Monaco you also get to experience the Formula 1 Race Track, albeit travelling in the opposite direction. I really enjoyed the place and yes it could be expensive but we managed to eat and drink for the day without spending an unreasonable amount of cash. And if I had been the possessor of unlimited cash then perhaps I could have been tempted with one of the fantastic boats that were in Port Hercule or even one of the new quayside apartments that had starting prices of 5 Million Euros!!!
We travelled back on the train to Nice in the early evening and made our way back from the station to Place Massena where we hunted down somewhere different to eat. In stark contrast to the previous day when we got saturated, our day in Monaco had been glorious despite the threatening black cloud that hung over the mountain all day but thankfully without obscuring the Cote D’Azur sunshine.
Between Nice and Monaco, resting on a mountain top, is the mediaeval village of Eze. We headed there on the bus on the Thursday and once again the weather was being kind. Eze, along with Paris and Grasse, was the home of Fragonard, a premier perfume factory. We took the free tour which took no more than 20 minutes and had as much time as we wanted wandering around the mazy lanes of the village, stopping at one of the few cafes before heading back to the bus stop for the next bus back to Nice.
We got off of the bus near to the old quarter which was a decent walk from the hotel but, after a snack and a drink, decided to walk up to the ruin of the Colline du Chateau which overlooked Nice marina on one side and the main bay of Nice on the other. The walk back to the hotel was conveniently interrupted by rest stops along the Promenade du Anglais to watch the fishermen being attacked by the sea crashing against the rocks that they were fishing from, and the crazy swimmers who I guess still found the sea temperature tolerable at the end of October.
On our last evening we ate at VIP’s restaurant, just around the corner from the hotel. Slightly more expensive than what we had had previously but worth it, especially on the final night in Nice.
One day left and we still wanted to see some of the north part of the city and so on Friday, after enjoying the final breakfast at the small cafe/restaurant that was literally a few steps across the road from our hotel (and where we had taken breakfast every morning for half the price of that being asked at the hotel), we headed off for the bus stop to catch the bus that would take us to the Monastery and also the Matisse Museum (if we had time). It was good to see another part of the city but after seeing the Monastery we chose to get back to the Promenade at Nice and enjoy as much of that as we could prior to leaving for the airport in the afternoon.
Part of Nice’s appeal turned out to be the ease and relatively small cost of the public transport. Getting to and from the airport cost 4 Euros each on the public bus which was conveniently just two minutes walk from the hotel. And getting around the various parts of the city and also outside of the city to Monaco and Eze (and others that we didn’t have time to visit) was equally as simple.
The Cote D’Azur left a favourable impression. It’s a lovely part of the Mediterranean with lots to see and it’s also close to the Italian border which potentially adds another dimension. It would be nice to think that we may return one day.
Footnote : Kiss and Fly – Nice Airport, like most if not all airports, has its short stay and long stay car parks, its departures and arrivals areas and, a quick dropping-off area. At Nice they call it “Kiss and Fly”, and this is precisely how it is written on the signposts around the airport.