Nice: vibrant, glamorous and slightly sketchy

Nice holds a near mythical status in my adult mind, a sliding doors moment times two. I was eighteen years old and travelling with a school friend on an Interrail pass for several weeks around Europe. We’d spent a few days in Paris before taking a sleeper train to the French Riviera. Nice was to be our base as we explored the delights of the coast from Cannes to the Italian border.

Thanks to some boisterous fans of Olympique de Marseille football club it had been a sleepless night on the sleeper train. We disembarked at Nice’s pretty mid-19th century train station tired and bleary-eyed in the early morning, where we were immediately met by a man who said he had a room to rent. Were we interested? This was just how things were done in pre-internet 1988.

Nice, France
Port, Nice, France
Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, Nice, France
Vieille Ville, Nice, France
Nice, France
Railway station, Nice, France

My friend went off to take a look while I wandered off to find a coffee. As I stood looking over the rooftops of the town towards the ocean, I was approached by two girls, the eldest probably not more than 12 years old. I remember very clearly a piece of cardboard with something like ‘hungry please help’ written on it being pushed into my chest. I was tired and disoriented, and mercifully learned a hard lesson the easy way.

As the girls pleaded for money, hands waving in my face, a woman who was walking past shouted, in English, “Watch your pockets.” In a flash I realised that beneath the cardboard other hands were at work. I knocked the cardboard away and my passport fell to the ground. As the girls tried to run I grabbed the arm of the eldest, a wallet and travellers cheques (1988, remember) fell from her armpit, where she’d stashed them.

I let go and grabbed my stuff. It happened so fast I was too shaken to do more than stand there dumbfounded as the girls walked off hurling some choice abuse in my direction. In those few moments, my entire trip could have ended and I would have been on my way back to the UK. My friend returned to report the room was nice, more importantly it was cheap. When I told him what had just happened, he looked at me like I was mad.

The second of my sliding door moments came a day later when our landlord made us a proposition. He was a builder and wanted cheap labour for an apartment block he was building. If we agreed, we could stay in Nice, have free accommodation and get paid off the books. We were tempted, and had we not been at the start of our Interrail trip might have taken his offer. Had we accepted, might I still be living in Nice?

This time we visited Nice almost by mistake. We had vouchers for flights bought in Berlin but cancelled during the pandemic. Now in Brussels, the airline only flew to two places: Geneva and Nice. We decided on sun, sea and stoney beaches. This second trip to the capital of the Côte d’Azur was far less traumatic, although it would be fair to say that for all its modern chic and faded glamour, Nice is still rough around the edges.

It didn’t take us long to appreciate the many attractions of this vibrant town overlooking the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. The glorious buildings that hosted Europe’s aristocracy, including Queen Victoria, during the Belle Époque are still there along the Promenade des Anglais. That faded glamour has been rejuvenated by an excellent bar and restaurant scene, not to mention a range of world-class museums and galleries.

Beach, Nice, France
Beach, Nice, France
Fontaine du Soleil, Nice, France
Vieille Ville, Nice, France
Place Masséna, Nice, France
Beach, Nice, France

We had six days in Nice, enough time to explore the city slowly and to make a couple of day trips. The weather was hot and sunny, and when things became a little too much, the beach beckoned. Surprisingly for a stretch of coastline this famous, the beach is stoney. The pricey but good private beaches offer loungers, great food, chilled wine, and matting down to the water. A far better introduction to the Côte d’Azur.

3 thoughts on “Nice: vibrant, glamorous and slightly sketchy

  1. “La promenade des Anglais…” 😉
    Nice always has drawn the English…
    Glad this last stay was better than the first.

  2. Ahhh the memories! We were here 4 years ago with our then 6 year old daughter. I have a photo of her at the I love Nice was a great city with a young kid – the beach, the parks, the fountain area and the yummy food and icecream were a hit with her! Thanks for bringing back my last family holiday memories x

    1. It is a fabulous city, and in a spectacular location. We were thinking of going back for the rugby world cup next year, but Lille is also hosting some games and is a lot closer!

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