Sunday, June 12, 2016

Côte d'Azur

Côte d'Azur.

The French Riveria.

Nice. Monaco. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Cannes.

These names alone inspire images of pristine beaches, azure blue waters, and yellow and white striped umbrellas shading the throngs of stylishly dressed beach-goers.
The reputation precedes them in the best of ways.

Justin and I arrived in Nice, France after an arduous journey from the west coast. It is a 5 hour flight from LAX to JFK, followed by another 7 hour flight into France. We arrived early in the morning, exhausted but pleased, with Riveria sunshine blazing above us through the glass corridors of the airport.

Sounds glorious, n'est-ce pas?

Oh, but traveling abroad must always have its quirky challenges.

The first was the rental car. An unexpected $500 downpayment fee, a $30 "special equipment fee," and a three-way 45-minute international phone call later we finally had the keys to our scuffed but reliable Toyota Yaris in hand.

We just needed to exit the garage. But where was our ticket? With a cue 5-deep behind us and the irritated garage attendant shouting in French, Justin jumped from the car to run back to the main office for a replacement while I tried to avoid any and all eye contact from our peers.

At last…ticket entered…gate raised… and our little Yaris narrowly avoids being sideswiped in the  onslaught that is Nice traffic.

Sacré bleu!

The French driving style is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I say this having lived in Los Angeles and driving the 405 with painful regularity. The French are belligerent drivers, who take the extra 2 milliseconds that you pause before turning as a personal affront. "Allez! Allez!" They shout before skirting around you, cutting you off with inches to spare, all the while shooting you nasty looks. There is very little organization, their streets are a maze of one-way boulevards that involve 360 degree turnabouts, little to no signage, and four-way crosses that lack yield or stop signs.

Treacherous to say the least.

It took us 25 minutes, a few missed turns, and a winding journey through tiny streets to find Villa La Mouline, where we fell from the car in profound relief.

Villa la Mouline is a lovely bed and breakfast style spot in the villa district just a quick 5 minute walk from Promenade des Anglais. The rooms are comfortable and the host serves breakfast in the garden nook behind the villa, complete with trailing vines of wisteria, cacti, and a profusion of hanging air plants.

After a revitalizing shower and quick change Justin and I set off to explore the lovely and vibrant streets of Nice. It was noon in Nice but thanks to the time change, our bodies were telling us it was three in the morning, LA time.

Was it worth it, though?

A thousand times yes.

Justin and I ambled along Promenade des Anglais, admiring the sun's reflection on the azure blue waters of the Mediterrean, listening to the cry of the sea gulls, and snapping pictures of the myriad of lovely buildings situated along the Port of Nice like a line of pastel confections. 

Stepping off Promenade des Anglais we stopped for chilled glasses of rosé within the cool interior streets of the historic district of Vieux Nice. Vieux Nice is a fabulous place, all cobbledstoned streets, tall, linked builds in shades of rust, amber, and cream with jewel-colored shutters and a profusion of flowered planters. Patisseries, boulangeries, cafes, and gift shops line the narrow streets littered with small bistro tables and chairs.

It is the kind of place to get lost in.

It started to rain a bit, so Justin and I popped into the baroque Cathédrale Ste Réparate in Place Rossetti. I love visiting churches and cathedrals while abroad. They are restful and beautiful, a testament to the resolution, faith, and artistic abilities of people long passed. We ate dinner in Place Rosetti, watching the rain bounce off the cobblestones and fountain in the large courtyard and inhaling the scent of freshly made crepes emanating from the nearby creperie.

We were exhausted that evening and fell asleep shortly after 9 PM. The next morning our host Nicolas served us coffee, juice, and croissants on the patio before we set off for Castle Hill.

Castle Hill affords fabulous panoramic views of Nice and the coastal waters of the Mediterranean. Once the site of a ruined castle, it now serves as a park complete with a playground and dog run. Cacti, bougainvillea, palms, and olive trees offer shade to the park's visitors and the pervasive scent of jasmine fills the air.


Justin and I spent two a half days in Nice but I found myself wishing we could have more time there. It encapsulates all the beauty for which the South of France is so renown. We returned to Nice for our last evening abroad, driving along the cliff side roads at sunset to explore Villefranche and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. We dined along the water, partaking in traditional french cuisine which included a luxuriously indulgent dish of Grand Marnier souffle. Oh mon dieu, my taste buds sang like baby angels after the first bite!

Oh, Nice.

I feel saturated by the unfailing beauty of the sites from our trip. Nice was wonderful, but it was only the beginning.


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