(hurray for Avios points!)
La Villa Hotel
La Villa Hotel Bathroom
La Villa is a 3* boutique hotel midway between Gare Nice Ville (Nice train station) and Vieux Nice (Old Town Nice). It’s a short walk from the corner of Boulevard Victor Hugo and Nice’s main thoroughfare, Avenue Jean Medecin, where you’ll find a shopping mall, restaurants, and coffee shops. There’s also a convenient tram that runs up at down Avenue Jean Medecin, which connects Vieux Nice with Gare Nice Ville.
La Villa is a modern that still manages to retain lots of French character. Our room was located in the corner of the building, which meant that we had lots of space and excellent views. Everything was clean and comfortable, and much nicer than what you’d expect from a 3* hotel in Europe – there was free Wi-Fi, a flatscreen television with several English stations, a writing desk, separate seating area, and an ENORMOUS bathroom with views of the neighbouring church.
Day 1 – Promenade des Anglais
We arrived at Nice Cote d’Azure Airport in the early afternoon and took the #99 bus straight to Gare Nice Ville. Tickets were €6 (they were valid for the whole day) and the journey lasted about 25 minutes. From the train station it was another 15-minute walk to the hotel where we checked in, and promptly vegged out in front of the TV for a few hours.
Nice Beach . . . in Nice!
Once dinnertime rolled around I managed to pull myself together and take a walk down to Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais. There are plenty of restaurants lining the coast, but they were all extremely overpriced. So what is a budget traveller like me to do? Go to Subway, of course!
My boyfriend and I started a ‘tradition’ of eating Subway sandwiches in France during our first trip to the country a few years ago. It was winter and we were staying at a not-so-nice hotel next to Lyon’s major train station. Weary from our travels, we flocked to the first familiar restaurant logo we saw – and it was a Subway. Since then, it’s been a bit of running joke that when we visit the culinary capital of the world, we eat horrible American sub sandwiches.
Nice was no exception. I ran into a Subway about two blocks from the beach and order a foot-long sub, a pack of cookies, and a drink. Our dinner for two in Nice was a whopping €7/person and we took our little subway bag straight to the beach, where I got to watch the sun set over the French Riviera on a fabulous autumn evening. THAT, my friends, was priceless.
Day 2 – Monaco and Nietzche’s Footpath
Day 2 turned out to be a real calorie burner. One of the main reasons I chose to visit Nice was its proximity to Monaco. Monaco, as you probably already know, is an über wealthy micro nation nestled along the Mediterranean coastline. It also happens to be a scant 20 minutes from Nice.
I took the SNFC from Gare Nice Ville to Monte Carlo after a bit of a late start to the day. Tickets were about €3.50/person and trains leave several times an hour, so I didn’t have to time my arrival. The short train journey to Monaco offered beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea and of lovely little seaside villages.
I was excited to arrive in Monaco, but after a few hours of wandering around, I discovered there’s really not much to do in the tiny country. I saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino (but didn’t go inside) and ventured over to the local beach to dip my toes into the water. I then followed part of the F1 race track before settling in for lunch . . . at McDonalds.
To be honest I was a little disappointed by Monaco. Yes, parts of the principality are very pretty and yes, there are Ferraris and Bentleys everywhere and plenty of well-dressed people, but everything was very much crammed together. There wasn’t a lot of space and a lot of the buildings clashed with one another — I guess to put it another way, Monaco seemed like a really opulent, beautiful mansion that is full of busy furniture and bad artwork. You can still appreciate the house for what it is, but the furniture is a little distracting.
After a deliciously fattening (but cheap!) lunch at McDonalds, I caught the 112 bus from Monaco to Eze Village, a pretty little medieval town overlooking the sea. The bus departs every few hours and you can pick up a schedule from any tourism office in Monaco. The bus ride was only €1.50/person and took us along a beautiful coastal road.
By the time I arrived in Eze, I was pretty tired and the thought of climbing further up to get a better look at the village had lost its appeal. Instead, I made the monumental mistake of thinking the hike down to Eze sur mer (to the coast) would be easier. The hike is called Nietzsche’s footpath, and it’s a rocky descent that takes at least 40 minutes. On the plus side, the views from the walk were absolutely spectacular and the natural surroundings were a nice contrast from cluttered Monaco. After reaching the coast, I caught the train back to Nice and promptly laid in bed. I probably walked at least 10 miles over the span of 5 or 6 hours and was completely spent.
After running myself ragged the previous day, day 3 was meant to be a ‘relaxing day’. The plan was to take a scenic train right into the heart of Provence and enjoy a day out in the countryside. This is what happened in reality:
We woke up at 8am, which is 7am London time, in order to catch the 9:20 train out of Nice. Still monumentally sore from the previous day, I schlepped myself out of bed and began a mad search for the train station. You see, the scenic Train des Pignes doesn’t depart from Nice’s main train station. It departs from the tiny Gare des chemins de fed de Provence, which is a few blocks north. It took 20 minutes of walking before we found it and by that time it was 9am.
I purchased two return (round trip) tickets to Annot, a little town about halfway up the line. Because we didn’t have time to stop for breakfast that morning, we stocked up on vending machine snacks before boarding the train. Once the train departed and reached the outskirts of Nice, the scenery really began to transform. Gone were the tropical palm trees and Mediterannean villas. They were replaced by pine forests, mountain streams, and ancient villages.
Our first stop was the medieval village of Entrevaux, where we were supposed to enjoy a nice lunch and have a leisurely stroll. The first part of this plan went off without a hitch. We found a great restaurant called Restaurant du Pont-Levis that served excellent local food. After lunch, however, we made the last-minute decision to climb up to the village’s citadel. Perched high above on top of a mountain, this turned out to take an HOUR. The footpath to the citadel was well paved, but it was pretty tough considering my legs were already sore from the day before. Nevertheless, we came, we saw, and we conquered. Next stop: Annot.
As it turns out, Annot doesn’t have a great deal to offer other than an impossibly cute central square and some great autumnal scenery. The train journey back to Nice took somewhere between two and three hours. I don’t know the exact time because I fell asleep. On our way back to the hotel, we picked up – you guessed it – Subway and enjoyed a feast of sandwiches and cookies before tucking in for the night.
Day 4 – Villefranche-sur-mer
Thoroughly exhausted from the previous two days, I really made it a point not to expend too much energy on day 4. After waking up blissfully late, we took a 10-minute train ride to beautiful Villefranche-sur-mer. Located between Monaco and Nice, Villefranche is built around a beautiful natural bay and boasts an actual sandy beach, unlike the pebble beach at Nice. The day we visited it was nearly 25 degrees, which was perfect beach weather. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my swimsuit so all I managed was a quick wade in the sea before heading in for lunch in the village.
Villefranche – this photo doesn’t do it justice.
Day 5 – Vieux Nice
My flight didn’t take off until 16:45, so I still had a half day to do a bit more exploring. After checking out of the hotel, we walked down to Vieux Nice to have a look around before heading off to the airport. The weather didn’t quite cooperate with us and it drizzled most of the morning. Even in the rain, Old Town Nice had its charms. The neighbourhood comprised of twisting pedestrians alleyways and candy coloured buildings that bore a striking resemblance to the architecture in Venice. Indeed, Nice used to be a part of Italy and that definitely shows in its older buildings.
Old Town Nice
After touring old town thoroughly, I head back to the Promenade des Anglais for a quick lunch before catching the #98 bus to the airport.