It's true. I love Nice. And not just me, we as a family love Nice. But to be clear, we love the Old Town, which is also known as Vieux Nice in French, and we love the beach. Yes, the Old Town and the beaches are crowded, but the water is gorgeous and the town is so lively.
We skipped the unreasonably priced breakfast at the Novotel Hotel. The buffet is great, but honestly how much can you eat in the mornings?! Instead, we headed into town and started off our day at a lovely French bakery. At a fraction of a cost of the hotel's buffet, fresh baked croissants, pain chocolates, and a couple cups of coffee were just what we needed to start the day (no coffee for the kids :)). Once we had food in our bellies, we headed off towards the rocky beaches of Nice. Yep, you read that correctly, these beaches are all rocks and no sand.
Travel Tip: When we checked in at the Novotel the night before, the receptionist told us that if we just asked for an extension on the check-out time in the morning, they would gladly let us stay 2 extra hours. We took advantage of this and were able to check out at 2. After 2 PM, the hotel charges 40 Euros an hour.
If you search the internet for beaches and beach experiences in Nice, you will get lots of different views on whether you should go to a public or private beach. A lot of people like the idea of being catered to, and being able to sit on beach chairs with umbrellas, as opposed to having your towel laid out on rocks. Many sites suggest pampering yourself while in this luxurious town, that's what it's famous for after all. That isn't really our style, so we decided to check out the public beach and see how long we would last. We had expected the beach to be not as fun without sand, so weren't planning on a long stay. Surprisingly, thanks to my hubby's thinking and effort (see more in the travel tip), we had a lot of fun and lasted a lot longer than anticipated. We had so much fun in fact, we had to rush back to the hotel and check out at 2:01 PM!!
Travel Tip: Public beaches in Nice are free. To be truly comfortable at a public beach in Nice, you would need a Bamboo mat under your towel, as it's not very comfortable to lie on rocks. My husband just ran to a nearby store across from Promenade des Anglais, which thankfully had very reasonable prices, and bought the mat and some floating devices. You would also probably have more fun with some sort of floating tube or raft, especially if you have young children. Since the water is so calm, this makes the beach and swimming experience much more enjoyable. Lastly, don't forget to bring your rubber sole swim shoes. Although we managed fine with our flip flops, I think we would have been more comfortable with swim shoes.
There are a handful of public beaches in Nice to choose from. For no reason in particular, other than it's proximity to Vieux Nice, we picked Plage Publique des Ponchettes. The water across the coast of Nice looks so blue and calm, but it's not quite the same level of calmness as the Caribbean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea has some wild waves right at the shore that crash into the rocky beach, making the getting in and out of water a bit of a challenge at times. Once you are a short distance away from the beach, the waves are very calm.
Despite the lack of sand, the kids kept themselves entertained for a while, building rock castles and rock towers and just being little beach bums.
Also, I just have to add that the rocks were not scalding hot like I had read in some reviews. I guess were were lucky in that regards, as the temperature was really just perfect. The rocks were mainly flat and perfectly warm. It almost felt like getting a hot stone massage :) One other benefit of the rocks over sand is it made for a very clean beach experience... no sand to clean out of hair or bathing suits was a nice change!
We did walk through Vieux Nice very quickly to check out the flea market which is held in Cours Saleya. On other days it normally features a flower market, but on Mondays it turns into a lovely flea market with lots of nice antiques.
We were really rushing through everything, which bummed me out because I wanted to see more of this beautiful city. However, knowing we still wanted to drive through Monaco and make it to Florence before 10PM, I knew it was time to hit the road.
Who knows, maybe we will make our way back here again before leaving France.
Monaco is a very short distance away from Nice, but driving through the town was a bit of a challenge, as it seems the entire city is built on a mountainside with roads that make you think you are driving around a cork screw. The crowds of people crossing the streets does not simplify this problem. Regardless, the drive was definitely worth it and highly recommended. We drove by a very lively boardwalk with lots of fun looking games and activities, and saw a very huge cruise ship in the water. We then drove past the famous Monte Carlo Casino, where we saw lots of fancy and expensive cars parked outside. Since there was traffic, it offered some opportunities to hop out of the car and take a few quick pictures. After making the loop through the town, we headed back to the highway to begin our Italian adventures.
The Road to Italy
The main highways used to travel from Nice to Florence are A10 and E80. This is a very mountainy area, and the Italians found an ingenious way to keep the highway with a view of the coast, albeit from afar, for as long as possible. They achieved this with an impressively long series of tunnels and bridges spanning about 100 km. We were quite amazed at how many bridges and tunnels we travelled on and through, and the fact that each one had its own name. The views are absolutely remarkable for the majority of the drive. It was quite a windy road, so perhaps not the most efficient highway, but we have to give the Italians credit for what must have been a long and expensive construction effort. We only had to stop once to get a toll ticket when we entered Italy, and then one more time to pay the toll once we took our exit in Florence. It wasn't particularly cheap, but it was much better than France with their ridiculous number of tolls.
We arrived in Florence tired, but very happy, just around 10 PM. We are so excited to explore the city tomorrow and see all the wonderful sights we have heard/read about.