The French Riviera Experience Pt. 1 – Nice

Nice is the epitome of the high-cultured living that is so widely advertised as life on the French Riveria.  From Place Massena, with bright pastel buildings and elegant checkered floor tiles, to too-bright blues of water that seems dyed, to charming sea-side towns, Nice meets the expectations of tourists that have seen the typical French Riviera postcards.

Nice’s main attractions are centered around the Vielle Ville, or Old Town.  Departed from the main road by a wall and a downward flight of stairs, Vielle Ville is a busy community full of restaurants, many serving authentic Niçoise food.  Most restaurants have patios that spill out into plazas or streets, narrowing the walking path to a few shoulders wide.  Souvenir and wine shops are scattered among the numerous shops, with impossible numbers of people crammed into narrow passages.  You could feel that everyone was walking these alleys to relax, shop, and enjoy the excellent cuisine found in France.

There are two things that I recommend every traveler try in Nice: socca and a tasting menu.  Socca, a crispy chickpea pancake baked in a wood-burning oven, is a local specialty and native to this region of France.  Socca can be found in abundance in Nice and I tried the dish at Chez René Socca on a rustic corner in Vieux Ville.  Worn-down wooden tables and chairs line either side of the cobbled streets.  Piping hot socca is scraped off a platter onto paper plates then shovelled into eager mouths.  The sheer number of people sampling socca from this corner has led to the absence of available table space for customers who do not purchase a drink (they are pretty strict about this).  Nevertheless, the salty and crispy pancake is perfect for a snack while enjoying the many sights of Nice.

Socca - the delectable snack made from chickpea flour
Socca – the delectable snack made from chickpea flour

I ended up sampling a tasting menu with ten dishes, including some traditional French food.  The tasting menu had ten small portions of European cuisine, including some tasty favorites like lasagna and beef stew.   Ratatouille, a vegetable stew that inspired a Disney movie, was my favorite because of its refreshing taste from the richness of pastas, pizzas, and meats that were the common menu items.  Being a part of the vibrant restaurant atmosphere in Nice, people-watching and admiring the unique décor were added benefits of eating in Vielle Ville.

Salt, salt, and salt found in one of these roadside shops
Salt, salt, and salt found in one of these roadside shops

One of the nicest views of the city can be found at the lookout points from Castle Hill.  To reach the top of the hill, you can take a lift from Promenade des Angles, or find a set of stairs at the eastern end of Vielle Ville.  The short hike up the stairs and along the road are usually deserted, making a nice contrast to the bustle of the rest of the city.  Along the path, you will pass some amazing mosaics, decorative gardens and smothering greenery.  The top of the hill boasts a great view of the promenade, beach, and a view of the city.  Nice also has a few museums (Marc Chagall!) and churches that are worth visiting if you had the time.

Nice Nice view of the promenade and beach from Castle Hill
Nice Nice view of the promenade and beach from Castle Hill



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