What to Do (in no particular order):
Get Lucky: I don’t think I’d be too lucky a gambler, so while I didn’t even walk in, I did stand with the crowd and take a picture of this lovely façade. Natch–the Monte Carlo Casino is is probably the most famous casino in the world. If you want to indulge your inner James Bond, I recommend spending some dollars at the blackjack table. And bringing me.
See Cousteau’s Aquarium: Only 40 minutes from Nice is one of the coolest aquariums I’ve ever seen. Jacques Cousteau–as my roommate first told me and as Wikipedia later confirmed–was the director of Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum for years. It’s been open over a hundred years, with the classy crown molding and jellyfish visions to prove it.
See le Ciné: Ah, les films français! On one of our jaunts, my host Sara and I came across Le Mercury cinema, one of only two places in Nice to show films in the original language (the other being the Cinémathèque). In a tiny little artsy room, we saw Perfect Sense. In this sweet film, some scientific mystery has it that people’s senses are fading away starting with smell, then taste, then hearing…and so on. A bit spooky, totally lovely.
Get your Hair Done: Yes, a haircut qualifies as fun for me. I live in fear of Russian haircuts (and my own Russian language abilities) so I knew I had to get this stuff done in France. Impact Coiffure was right near my hostess’s flat, and it was always busy. Plus, cute boys came out with cute haircuts, and the female staff all had attractive pixie cuts or artfully mussed French hair. I ended up with a sweet set of bangs. Très bien indeed.
Get Cultured: I’ve seen La Danse a number of times, in both St. Petersburg and Amsterdam, so I didn’t care to see that again, but the Matisse Museum had a number of the artist’s sketches and later works from his time in Nice. Even more interesting, though, was the lower level’s collection of Brassaï photographs. Brassaï was such an interesting man: a polyglot filmmaker, sculptor and photographer, he changed the face of French photography forever. I like what Scott Schuman from The Sartorialist has to say about him here.
Take a Pause in Munich: On the way to Nice I stopped in Munich, making it my first trip to Germany. If you’re ever on a layover in Munich, the Corbin Feng Shui hotel in Freising is lovely. I also recommend Bombay for tasty Indian food and very nice service. The town is really pretty, but my camera was checked away in my luggage this whole time. I’ll have to return to Germany–camera in tow–some other day.
Visit the Flower Market: The market in Nice goes into full swing in the mornings. An early bird delight (on all days except Monday). I got a great pain au chocolat and saw a super selection of flowers. Come on, look at those peonies! When I was a young one we had a peony plant outside our house, and I loved watching the ants chew open the buds to reveal the pretty pink flowers. To me, they’re a beautiful reminder of summer. Enjoy!
It’s kind of a bad sign if you start your beach holiday in Nice not knowing that the beach is made of pebbles. Tiny, smooth, feet-hurting pebbles. The sand in Monaco and Cannes? Imported. I wouldn’t be going for long walks on the beach sans shoes again, but I would be taking in this beautiful view. After a cold Russian winter and continual trauma at work, it was time for a holiday by the sea. I couchsurfed with a lovely Polish girl, Sara, who showed me many of her favourite parts of the city and, of course, kept me fed.
What to Eat
Chocolate: Before I arrived, Sara hosted two girls from Germany who had come to France to do “research” on French chocolates. They tried hundreds of chocolates along Côte d’Azur, and in their estimate Lac Chocolatier was among the best. Lost in the old town, I stumbled around for a good ten minutes before finally coming upon it again, like some sort of hidden treasure. Good chocolate can be found so many places in France, but Lac seems to put special effort into their flavours and their brand.
Ice Cream I almost bypassed this glacier, fearful for the start of swimsuit season. But I couldn’t escape the call of Fenocchio‘s vanille meringuée: vanilla ice cream with bits of crushed up meringues mixed in. If you’re more adventurous you can try other, more exotic flavours (olive, anyone?) at this historic establishment. It was hot and lovely outside, so my ice cream was almost dripping down my hand as I was trying to take this photo. Le yum.
Pizza: Nice has changed hands many times, and was an Italian dominion before it became a part of France in 1860. This and its proximity an hour from the Italian border mean that pizza is served absolutely everywhere. Atmosphere Café dished up a nice four-cheese version, which I tried my best to eat up in its entirety while we sat on the patio and people-watched. My host had the moules-frites and, sadly, did not recommend them. Cold fries–never!
Sandwiches: On my day trip to Monaco, while walking around the gardens and the palace up on the hill (Monaco is much hillier than I’d thought), I noticed that everyone was walking around with baguette sandwiches. While I hate to be such a cliché, the reason they’re so popular is that they’ll keep you full for hours and are super-portable, not to mention delicious. I’d basically recommend any sandwich shop there for a baguette (duh, not a panini) and some cheese. This sandwich was enormous, packed with brie, tomatoes and rucola. I was pretty sure I’d never finish it, except… I did.
Socca: This strange-looking bread thing is socca, a Niçois tradition of the highest order. It’s a pancake made out of chickpea flower, eaten entirely with your hands. I cannot for the life of me remember where we went for our socca, but the gentleman at Chez Thérésa across the street from Sara’s apartment was always friendly and helpful, so I’m sure you’d get nice food there. Get there early, though, as he closes at 13h!
Tarte aux Brèdes: If my description of a chickpea pancake isn’t exactly causing you to furiously click through the Air France website, then maybe you should try the tarte aux brèdes. It’s a bit of an odd Niçois child too, but hear me out: sugared swiss chard and raisins inside flaky pastry. A bit sweet, a bit savoury, and very nice for breakfast. My host bought me one on my last day in Nice, and it was the perfect end to my trip.
Wine: Best for last, n’est-ce pas? On the mad hunt for wi-fi (or, excuse me, le wee-fee), we checked at least five establishments before one woman was kind enough to direct us to Distilleries Idéales. I didn’t listen to her directions too carefully, so we didn’t find it just then, but we did make our way back in the evening for some wine. One bartender we talked to during the day said that he himself was headed there later that evening, so it seems to be a bit of a favourite in town. Just the thing for feeling like you’re a local already.
Up Next: What to Do in Nice