City break Nice and Monaco
Majestic buildings in pastel colors on the Côte d'Azur
Fashionable Nice and the Côte d'Azur have been attracting tourists for two centuries already. The city, especially the Promenade des Anglais, has innumerable majestic buildings in pastel colors. But in the old city (Vieille Ville) you will also find narrow alleys and squares, like the Cours Saleya with its famous flower market. Nice is also France's carnival city. And at a short distance, there is Monaco to visit.
Travelogue & photos: Angélique Woudenberg
The flight to Airport Nice Côte d'Azur, only takes an hour and 50 minutes from Amsterdam. After picking up our luggage we take a bus which takes us directly to the city center of Nice. It takes the Promenade des Anglais, Nice's 7 km long avenue, which connects the city with the airport.
Joggers, skaters and walkers parade on the avenue, which is seperated from the azure-blue Mediterranean only by a pebble beach. The avenue is planted with pretty palm trees. Rich English people settled in Nice and surroundings from the beginning of the nineteenth century
In 1820 the English "snowbirds" started the construction of this avenue, which explains the name Promenade des Anglais.
On the other side of the avenue are stores, cafés, restaurants, tall stately buildings and monumental villas from the Belle Époque, the period of prosperity in the decades before the first world war.
Not only rich Brits, but also many artists moved to the Côte d'Azur in the 19th and 20th centuries because of the pleasant and sunny climate. Majestic buildings and poche hotels were built, like the Négresco hotel.
Our hotel is near the Négresco. We immediately recognize it from pictures in the brochure. It's a white building with a shocking-pink dome, built in 1912 by Henri Négresco. The hotel is on the list of French national landmarks since 2003.
We drop off our luggage in the hotel and immediately begin exploring the Promenade des Anglais.
There are lots of restaurants, brasseries, crêperies and other places to have food, but they are very expensive.
In the evening a parade of light goes through the streets
Nice is the carnival city of France and carnival is celebrated exuberantly here for two weeks. Tonight at 9 PM the first light parade wil take place. The stands are already filling up. The seats cost 25 euro tonight. "Standing is free," the woman who sells tickets says with a straight face.
We find a spot amidst the crowds on the Promenade des Anglais. The sound system blares carnival songs. Even before the parade begins, we are already covered with confetti and streamers. Not just kids, but even adults throw confetti at you, or spray sticky streamers from spray cans. It doesn't matter if they know you or not, everyone's a target. Initially we laugh, but after a while it gets annoying.
After a while the beginning of the festivities is announced. Large groups of youngsters dressed in rainwear warm up the audience with dance. Their faces are turned toward the grandstand. There are literally no seats left, despite the expensive tickets.
This year's theme is "Roi de la Très Grande Mêlée". This refers to the big events in France this year, namely the Presidential elections and the world championship rugby (football).
The "king" of the parade is a gigantic dummy wwhich represents a caricature of President Chirac as a rugby player. It's a stunning parade. We also see caricatures of candidates for the presidency and cheerleaders who will support the rugby team during the games.
But there also is a colorful Eiffel Tower and a large salad of different kinds of fruit and vegetables, representing the diversity of the population.
The highlights of the city in less than an hour
The next morning, after breakfast, we walk to the Promenade des Anglais again. We see two tourist trains and this spot happens to be their last stop as well. We decide to get on board. Including a stop, the ride takes 50 minutes.
The train passes the park Jardin Albert I, Vieille Ville (the old city center), Marché aux Fleurs (the flower market), Park Colline du Château (Castle Hill Park) and back to the Promenade des Anglais.
The Albert I City Park was constructed in the nineteenth century and during carnival it has all kinds of entertainment. There are floats and there is a fair with a Ferris wheel. The park also has a beautiful fountain and benches.
The information tape on the train announces that we are now in the old city center of Nice, Vieille Ville. The old city is only a small part of Nice and has narrow streets and alleys with tall, colorful buildings, mostly ochre-yellow and salmon, with blinds and French balconies, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. It looks somewhat Italian.
During our ride we see lots of 17th and 18th centuries churches in Baroque style, recognizable by pastel colors and whimsical shapes. We also see the Theatre Municipal.
We pass the flower market on the Cours Saleya, which we will visit later.
Then we drive up a hill to the Colline du Château park, "le Château" (the Castle) for short. On this hill sat a castle which was destroyed in the eighteenth century. We pass a pretty waterfall and Roman ruins. It's a pity we don't stop here.
But ten minutes later we stop at the top of the hill. On one side we have a great view of the Baie des Anges, Nice's Angel Bay. On the other side are the Alpes Maritimes, the foothills of the Alps on the border of France and Italy.
After this tour it's still a while before the carnaval parade begins, so we walk back to the Vieille Ville.
We stroll through the maze of pedestrian alleys and visit store after store to find souvenirs. The place has an Italian atmosphere.
Large caricatural dummies and decorated floats
The Carnival Parade begins at 2:30 PM. The carnival in Nice has three different attractions, which take place several times during these two weeks.
In the first place there's the Corso Carnavalesque, a parade of decorated floats, dressed-up extras and dummies. Then there is the Bataille de Fleurs, a parade with floats decorated with flowers. And last but not least, there's the Carnavalesque Illuminé, the night parade with lights that we saw yesterday night.
This afternoon, it's Corso Carnavalesque. The grandstand is sold out again. We find a spot opposite the Meridien Hotel and Casino Ruhl. We should have got a spraycan with streamers. We use an umbrella to protect us a little from the sticky streamers.
One after another caricature dummy and beautifully decorated float passes. According to the information brochure, there are nineteen groups, but it seems a lot more. Each group has a theme that sympolizes a (future) event in France or Nice.
Along beautiful bays to the tax haven
After breakfast we walk to the Gare Routière to take the bus to Monaco. We're not the only ones waiting for the bus to Menton. There is a long line ahead of us, but a bus #100 to Menton leaves every ten minutes. The ticket (single fare) is only 1.30 euro.
As soon as the bus is full we leave. We drive along the Nice port and then up a little hill, where we have an incredible view of Nice.
There are three coastal roads between Nice and Menton, called Les Corniches. We are on the Corniche Inférieure. It is indescribably beautiful. We pass the mountain villages of Villefranche, Beaulieu sur Mer, Eze and Cap d'Ail on our way to the miniature state of Monaco.
We drive on a winding road along the azure-blue sea with beautiful bays, the marinas of the French Rivièra and tunnels like the one of Cap Estel. We pass dozens of good spots to take pictures.
The bus ride to Monaco Ville takes approximately 45 minutes. We ask the driver to call us as soon as we arrive in Monaco Ville. The driver says "oui," but actually means "non". He is involved in his own Formula 1 racing, cutting bends and busying himself with all kinds of other things while he's driving.
Fortunately we took an information brochure from the hotel, which has a map of Monaco and a list of all bus lines there. We get off the bus at Place des Moulins, walk back a little bit and take bus #1 to Monaco Ville. We get off at the last stop of the red bus line and take a walk in the narrow pedestrian alleys of the old town center.
The miniature state of Monace is internationally famous as a fashionable beach resort and tax haven with many casinos. It's home to the high society and has the annual Grand Prix Formula 1 races. Because Monaco has such a huge revenue from gambling, its citizens don't have to pay taxes.
We stroll without a plan through the old alleys of Monaco Ville and happen to arrive at the square in front of the Palais Princier (the Palace of the Prince).
It is the seat of the Monaco government, Albert II, since 2005 ruling monarch of Monaco. Prince Albert II is the oldest and only son of Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly.
The Palais Princier has been the official residence of the Prince of Monaco since 1297. It is a symbol of the principality of the Grimaldi, the royal family that rules Monaco. At the moment it's being renovated.
We missed the changing of the guards, which takes place at 11:55 AM.
Near the Palais Princier is Monaco's cathedral. On the spot of the current cathedral once stood a thirteenth century church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Which explains the name Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas. The cathedral houses the tombs of the former princes of Monaco, among whom Prince Rainier and Grace Kelley.
The principality of Monaca has three parts: Monaco Ville, the old city; the fashionable Monte Carlo and La Condamine, a resort with shops and marinas. Near the palace in Monaco Ville we have a great view of the built-up tax haven and the marina Port de Fontvieille.
We stroll back to the town center to get something to eat. The old city is actually a colorful collection of restaurants and souvenir shops. Pizza everywhere, but we choose a crêperie where we have crappy crêpes.
It's late in the afternoon and we save the Musée Océanographique, Jardin Exotique and the casino for the next visit.
We take bus #1 to Saint-Roman and on the way transfer to bus #100 to Nice. The ride itself is like a sight-seeing tour of Monaco Ville and Monte-Carlo.
Near the bus stop Eglise Saint-Charles we see pretty fountains with in the background the casino of Monte-Carlo, which was built in 1878.
It's rather crowded on the bus to Nice, but we find to seats in the back. On the way, many high-school students get on and off the bus. Apparently there recently was a flower parade in the village of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The trip back takes longer than than the trip to Monaco, around one and a half hours, because of the traffic jam on the Corniche.
Vieille Ville - Cours Saleya
Alleys, squares with outdoor cafés and the flower market
We check out after breakfast, but leave our luggage in the hotel. We pass the caricature of President Chirac on the Promenade des Anglais for the last time and cross the Jardin Albert I.
We wander through de narrow alleys of the old city, with their colorful buildings to the Cours Saleya, a square. There is a market here every day (except for Mondays) with fish, flowers and produce from the Provençe. It's crowded and the outdoor cafés are packed. The flower market has purple tulips and yellow mimosa.
There are also stalls with fruit, vegetables and other food products. On Mondays there is a flee and antiques market here.
Cours Saleya is, with the Promenade des Anglais, the place to watch people and to be seen. In the evening the market is replaced by outdoor seating for the many restaurants on this square.
It's nice to take a stroll on the market. We have to wait for seating in an outdoor café. Prices are sky-high, but hey, it's our last day here and the sun is shining. It's a great place to sit in the sun. People are enjoying life here. Nice is definitely nice.
And then it's time to leave. We take a little detour along the colorful buildings in the old city center to our hotel to fetch our luggage. We take the bus to Airport Nice Côte d'Azur and enjoy the ride on the sunny Promenade des Anglais.
Nice is a beautiful beach resort on the Côte d'Azur and a great operating base for trips to Cannes, Monaco and Menton. We haven't seen everything by far. A long weekend is too short. We will definitely return and then we'll also visit the Henri Matisse Museum.