P&P On Tour: Heaven in the hills

It had been at least 10 years since I last visited Nice, but returning for a midweek getaway earlier last month strangely felt like returning home. Nice holds a special place not just in my heart, but my family’s too. It is thanks to my mother’s incredible sense of adventure that we would spend two weeks of the summer holidays touring the South of France.

Fast-forward a decade later and here I am again, this time with my glamorous gran in tow, just like old times. We were about to embark on a girly, grown-up adventure where we would do nothing but enjoy leisurely breakfasts (loaded with carbs of course), share bottles of wine on our terrace, shop until we drop and spend our day with no plans, only a shared love of France and our sense of adventure.

Sounds pretty perfect? It was.

Having initially been unsure as to whether I could manage to take a full week away from my newly launched business, I’m so incredibly glad I did – because even three days or nights in Nice is enough magic to spark a little inspiration in anyone. My heart races as I write this,– simply because of how beautiful and magical a trip to the French Riviera can be for the soul…

Jour Un (Day One)

A mere two and a half hours from Newcastle Airport, we landed in Nice at around 7pm, just as the sun was fading into the earth leaving a warm orange glow across the land. Whether you arrive at the Côte d’Azur by day or night, it’s a breat- taking sight. By the time we retrieved our luggage and hopped on our bus to our apartment, the city lights were shining brightly in the dark night sky. I’m not ashamed to admit I practically hung my head out of the window eager to soak everything up as the bus zipped through the traffic and still-busy roads to the Centre Ville.

We were staying in an apartment owned by our relations: a beautiful old building called the Villa Belle Epoque which is French for “beautiful era”. Despite its modern outlook on life, Nice is still visually very much entrenched in the Belle Époque period, a golden age of peace and prosperity after the horrors of World War I. Without needing to consult one another, my Nanna and I stopped off at a beautiful wine and champagne boutique (soon to become our local) and picked up a chilled bottle of rose to toast to our adventure before bed….

Jour Deux (Day Two)

Waking up ridiculously early – too excited to sleep – we headed along the Promenade des Anglais in search of breakfast. Rumour has it Queen Victoria loved this view of the Mediterranean so much she commissioned the Promenade to be built for everyone to enjoy, hence the name. Passing the Bais des Anges (the Bay of Angels) and the stunning blue sea, we settled for a pretty roadside café to eat. My first taste of a proper French croissant and coffee in years, this is when the stresses and strains of daily life began to melt away in favour of the slower pace of French life, here in the jewel of the Mediterranean.

Having scoured the handy maps and tourism books in the apartment, I knew for certain I wanted to go and explore the Old Town and practically raced towards the daily Marché aux Fleurs…In utter heaven, I drifted dreamily past swathes of pretty peonies, lilies, lavender, pretty pear trees and a whole host of exotic-looking plants. I loved the noise and organised chaos of the flower market and despite heading home in just a few short days – couldn’t help but buy myself a beautiful bunch of peonies at just four euros (around £3). We lost ourselves ambling around the tiny streets in the Old Town for the next few hours, shopping, eating and drinking wine as we went. I couldn’t resist buying myself two beautiful watercolour paintings of Nice from a street artist which are now displayed proudly on my bookcase in my office reminding me of this picture-perfect day.

As the hot sun began to warm my cold British bones, I relished the fact that time seemed irrelevant here. It was almost 6pm, yet people were still lounging on the beach, wandering around the shops and just generally enjoying life. I made my mind up here that I’d like to live in Nice at some point in my life – just take off for six months and immerse myself in the French culture….

Before we headed back to our apartment for dinner, we wandered along to the furthest point of the Promenade des Anglais before the road bends on its way to Monaco and Monte Carlo and I climbed the steps of an old chateau to capture an unforgettable birds-eye view of the city below. I was only there five minutes before a couple behind us got engaged!! I mean, how perfect is this city?

Jour Trois (Day Three)

Spotting the bright pink facade of a clifftop villa that once belonged to eccentric heiress Ephrussi de Rothschild in our guide book – beautifully described as “an early 20th-century villa with 9 separately themed gardens overlooking the Mediterranean Sea” – Nanna and I both agreed we’d like to spend the day here wandering the gardens and admiring the views of the Bay of Villefranche and the Bay of Beaulieu below. First of all though, we had to find our way there…

Remarkably, my GCSE French came flooding back to me and I managed to navigate two bus routes and half-garble our plan in French to the bus driver before we hopped off 10km later at the grand entrance to the villa of Ephrussi de Rothschild. The sun was incredibly hot – perfect for me, who could happily bask in it all day long – but not so good for Nanna, so we headed for lunch on this most beautiful alfresco dining terrace I think I have ever seen. In utter heaven, we sipped our fruit teas and soaked up the easy-going atmosphere.

The afternoon slipped away as we enjoyed a tour of the villa and wandered through the series of nine gardens here at the Villa, each one possibly more beautiful than the last. Being up so high on the cliff meant we enjoyed nothing but silence, the gentle murmurings of other tourists and the sound of the sea. I cannot recommend a visit to the Villa highly enough. As if my afternoon couldn’t have been more perfect, we were coming to the end of the gardens when I heard music in the distance…. Rushing ahead to see if I could discover where it was coming from, I stumbled upon the dancing fountains – playing to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Cheesy? Maybe, magical? absolutely. Nanna left me for the gift shop, while I sat on the grass and just watched the fountains play for another half an hour or so.

Making friends with some fellow Brits on the bus back home, we joined them for dinner that evening – where I ate moules et frites for the millionth time that holiday.

Jour Quatre (Day Four)

By now, Nanna and I had fully adjusted to the way of French life… lazy lunches on our garden terrace, popping to the local shop for bread and freshly-baked vanilla macaroons to snack on with our coffee.. with just one full day left we decided to drift along to the beach for the day. Popping a couple of miniature bottles of champagne in our bag for later (I promise I’m not an alcoholic) and a good book, we settled into our day on the pebbled shore.

After lunch of a chocolate and cream-filled crepe, we spent the rest of the day on a local bus tour, hopping on and off as we pleased enjoying the sights. For me, it was spotting cute dogs in doorways and admiring pretty balconies whilst basking in the sun, for Nanna, it was a drive down memory lane along the roads we drove all those years ago when I was younger. Missing three members of our little tribe, we facetimed my mam, brother and sister to share the view.

Stopping at Nice’s upmarket department store: le Galeries Lafayette to spend a little holiday money before heading home for dinner, I treated myself to a little French navy present to remind me of the trip…

As it was our last night, we promised ourselves a glass of wine at the very beautiful Hotel Negresco – a self-confessed living museum from the roaring 20s art deco period. Rumour has it that the fifth floor of the hotel is for “VVIP” guests. The acronym stands for “very, very important persons”. The staff wear costume-style uniforms based upon the 18th century and it’s all very exciting. (Pictures weren’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to make do with your imagination).

The trip I worried about taking had all-too-soon come to an end, suddenly I didn’t care about emails, or invoices – four short days in Nice had been enough to renew me and I can’t wait to go back. We didn’t even touch on half of the things you can do here – the museums, art galleries, public gardens and local events – not least the fact that Nice is a gateway to Monte Carlo, Monaco and St Tropez. It’s been so long since I last visited these places, I really think another visit is long overdue….


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