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French Trilogy: A Nice Time in Nice

November 17, 2010

One of my aspirations in college was to be able to speak French. Unfortunately, during the two years I took French classes I never became fluent, but I haven’t given up and am still pursuing this goal. And after the month I spent in the French Riviera I did become conversant in this beautiful, melodic language.

In the summer of 2005 my girlfriends and I decided to enroll in the language school called International House located in Nice, France. I rented a small, truly French studio on the mansard of an old Romanesque building. It was so tiny I could barely turn around inside. However, it had all the essentials and was really cozy.

The greatest benefit of the building was the bakery–boulangerie–on the first floor. Every day I woke up from the delicious aroma of freshly baked pastry, complemented with the loud voices of local merchants delivering their goods. My school was situated within a 20-minute walk from my neighborhood, so every single day I bought a fluffy buttered croissant and a cup of freshly brewed black coffee to go, and enjoyed my French breakfast on my way to school, observing restaurant owners setting up the patios for the early birds.

Nice is famous for being part of Côte d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera. It features two main promenades—Quai des Etats-Unis and Quai des Anglais, which are basically stretched out along the city’s coastline and offer a magnificent view of the genuinely azure water of the Mediterranean Sea. The pearl of the Promenade des Anglais is Hotel Negressco. Constructed in 1912, it served as a temporary residence for many French and international celebrities, from Brigitte Bardot to Angelina Jolie.

Another great place to check out in Nice is Cours Saleya located in the heart of the old town. There is something so charming about the old town neighborhoods of European cities with their narrow streets and unforgettable medieval architecture. Cours Saleya is the oldest square in Nice featuring numerous restaurants of authentic Niçoise and international cuisines, daily farmer’s and flower markets, and lots of street entertainment for tourists, including an amazing Brazilian capoeira show.

I don’t have to tell you that French cuisine is acknowledged to be one of the most exquisite in the world with its technically complex preparation processes and advanced food presentation techniques. It also relies heavily on sauces, which usually demonstrate the chef’s mastery. Because Nice is a port town, local restaurants offer a variety of fresh seafood, often served on a big platter to be shared at the table. One of the most popular dishes/snacks in Nice is steamed mussels in white wine sauce that always comes with French fries. First, I was surprised by the unusual combination, especially for the high French cuisine, but it turned out to be a very delicious and balanced dish.

Another great place to visit is Place Rossetti that features a Gothic cathedral, Sainte-Réparate, and the beautiful fountain in the center of the square. During the daytime, the place is invaded with tourists lunching at the terraces of traditional restaurants and the finest ice-cream makers. During the night, it changes drastically due to the lighting of the cathedral that gives the square a magical vibe.

The old town also hosts a lot of hookah bars with a genuine Middle Eastern atmosphere. You can relax on soft comfortable pillows scattered over the floor and enjoy various fruit mixture flavors of traditional hookahs, sipping sweet Arabic tea and consuming delicious baklava.

Most of the pebble beaches in Nice are public, so if you prefer a more secluded place, you can pay a daily fee for using the hotels’ private beach clubs, which are pricey (about 30 dollars a day) but also offer a lot of fun stuff such as hot tubs, Jacuzzis and cash bars. The fee normally includes use of a beach bed or chair, towels and waiting service.

I decided to devote this post solely to Nice, even though I have so much more to say about my French Riviera adventures. In my next entry about the French trilogy, I’m going to write about the amazing dolce vita experience I lived through, cruising on a yacht between the hottest venues of Côte d’Azur. If you want to learn about Monaco, Cannes, Antibes, Cap Ferrat and other fabulous places, come back to my blog in the near future!

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