Posted tagged ‘French Riviera’

The most beautiful city in France.

April 11, 2009

I’m going to be honest here: France was not my favorite country by a long-shot. While some cities were nicer than others and it’s obviously not fair to be judging an entire country on the basis of my own personal experience, I can’t help the fact that France simply failed to impress as a whole. There was however one major exception, one location in France which stood out above the rest and which not only impressed me but which I consider one of the most enjoyable cities I’ve ever visited: Nice. No, not the adjective, the location; Nice, France. It’s a city. Really!  I believe it’s pronounced ‘niece’ actually, but written as Nice. Whatever the case it really is a grand place.

Located on the very tip of South Eastern France near the border with Italy, Nice is the leading resort on the French Riviera with its vast beautiful Mediterranean beaches and crystal blue water all bordering on a lively leading resort town. It’s more or less the relaxing vacation ideal in many many ways, the very image of  the classic vacation package which you’ll find on every pamphlet. How can you not love that? Easy. You’re like me and you’re honestly not much intrigued by pretty beaches and local nightlife. Just not my thing. Here’s the kicker however; regardless of its status as a resort city, Nice easily stands on its own as a city of beauty and intrigue.

Allow me to explain more fully. Oftentimes it seems the ‘resort town’ locations tend to be a facade, an illusion carefully crafted in order to appeal towards tourists and in so doing to make some decent money. These ‘fake’ towns in truth are often rather boring and even sometimes dismal places where the resort area exists in its own little bubble of reality kept separate from the city or town proper where the average grunts live their average lives and not everyone is a bronzed beach god and the vendors sell more mundane things like food and groceries rather than exotic overpriced charms and supposedly local specialties which, again, more often than not are little traditions the locals will either shrug their shoulders about and dismiss with a casual “I guess…” or dislike outright, hating you for bringing up the foul old tradition and loathing you to your very core for so daring to stereotype them if you should have the nerve to talk about the subject.

That’s your typical travel brochure resort town. It really is!

Nice is not a thing like that. For one it’s actually an extremely pleasant place to visit even if you never once go anywhere near the beaches or the tourist trap areas. As a city standing alone and any mention of resorts or fame or even location tossed aside, Nice stands pretty damn tall amidst its competition. The streets are clean, the buildings are pleasant to look at, the people are surprisingly pleasant, there’s a good historical backing behind the city and there almost always is something interesting to search out and explore. Most importantly for me at least it also have a good vibe to it, that indescribable inner judgement where all the above melds together into one grand image to which I hold the city up to. The vibe, the pulse, the je ne sais quoi, the… I can’t think of any other  appropriate words at the moment but whatever it is Nice has a good one.

For me the moment when I realized I was really enjoying myself in this humorously named city was when I was walking up a slight incline along an average city street, the sun shinning downward brightly but an enjoyable breeze keeping things from getting stiflingly hot. I was snacking on a brownie I’d picked up from a small local bakery and sipping a cool drink while talking with my friend and enjoying the simple local scenery. The picturesque houses and small gardens with their abundance of plants and flowers of all sorts, most in bloom at the time so that the gardens were grand explosions of colour and fragrances that wafted by slowly in the light wind. It was then I thought to myself “Wow, I am really impressed by this city!”. Why? Because I wasn’t doing anything special, I was just walking to the attraction I’d wanted to see and yet still despite being ‘in-between’ sights I was enjoying myself and the locale around me immensely. Anywhere given enough time and money can create sights and experience you’re bound to enjoy, that’s easy! But to make it so that you enjoy the simple process of getting from point A to B and that you’re continually seeing and finding things of interest even just while travelling between planned sights and sounds, that’s the hallmark of a genuinely fine place to be.

Of touristy things I actually did little during my stay in Nice. I saw the ancient roman ruins the city boasts, an active archaeological dig site open to the public with a small museum and walking path to wander along. Not particularly big nor was there much to actually do there, but it was certainly worth the money to visit if only because of just how damned scenic it is. I saw and walked along the winding upwards paths of the hill where once a castle used to sit, now converted into a large park with an absolutely mesmerizing view towards the peak where the entire landscape of the city around you is left open to the eyes and your worries just tend to drift away amidst the Mediterranean foliage and gentle warm breeze. And I wandered the old cities twisted narrow streets, my senses assaulted by the fragrances of the restaurants and food vendors, my eyes dazzled by the curiosity and volume of small details to note and enjoy as I walked. I would eventually eat a fine bowl of Gnocchi for dinner in that district served by a friendly older lady while listening to the pleasant sounds of local music before heading back to where I was staying at the time and off the next day to another location.

Not really much seen when it comes down to it. Some old ruins, a nice park (Which also contained its own slightly less old ruins), and an older local market area. Not much. But the simple act of walking from place to place, to see and enjoy the city around me and soak in the ambiance was something I found so pleasant that it pushed Nice into my list of favourite cities I’ve been to. Looking up the various details on Wikipedia now and reading about Nice to refresh my memory, there’s so much I haven’t seen and so many things I never even knew while I was there. That I still loved the city so much having seen so little just stands as a testament to how great of a place Nice really is, and I desperately want to re-visit and to search and explore it more thoroughly in the future.

Other cities in France boast their own sights and sounds and I do not try to lessen their grandeur with my adoration towards this one place, but few come close to so tying everything together and making the city such a cohesive and enjoyable whole as Nice does and for that I praise it.

What’s funny is that I label Nice the most beautiful city in France when, looking the city up now, I find that historically it’s much more of an Italian city than anything else if I were to label the city as ‘belonging’ to a certain way of life. But that aside the city is French now and has been for a very long time, so I call it the most beautiful city in France.