The French Riviera can never, ever live up to its reputation. Think about it; this is the only place that is really cool enough for James Bond to return to again and again. Perhaps nowhere else on earth is there such a convergence of style, wealth, and beauty. Dubai may surpass the Cote D’Azur in the wealth category, but is found woefully lacking in the style and beauty departments (although I do have a soft spot for gold-plated Lamborghinis). Paris certainly has style and wealth, but the sapphire blue oceans of Nice were beautiful long before the birth of any artist in the Louvre. San Francisco? Hong Kong? They are crowded ant piles of humanity compared to the softly churning shores of the south of France.
How do you visit a place that creates such lofty expectations? I recommend you find a way to write it off as a business expense and not take it so seriously. If you are the one paying exorbitant rates for a small, depressing hotel room, it is possible the charms of Nice will fail you. If, however, your employer is paying for your lodging, it is suddenly cozy, minimalist, and encourages you to get out and explore! Attitudes are everything.
With this tongue-in-cheek perspective, you are free to be enamored with the grace of Mediterranean living. Don’t be sad that you can’t afford to indulge in the sophistication of the casino at Monte Carlo; be thankful that your humble car isn’t one of the Bentleys and Rolls Royces being left out front for every commoner to spit upon.
Speaking of cars, anyone who appreciates four-wheeled transportation should visit the private-but-available-to-the-public collection in Monaco. Whatever your generation, you will find the cars that once decorated your bedroom wall.
The next dream to be fulfilled is culinary. Oh, the food! I don’t know how I could recommend a particular restaurant, as every meal was amazing. The simple pasta and pizza from a street-side cafe, meticulously prepared meals by candlelight, even the Skittles in the airport tasted better. Perhaps most amazing is the wine. It shouldn’t surprise me, but these people know wine. The typical house wine tastes like a $100 special occasion opening.
The dessert above is made from Nougat. What is nougat? I didn’t know. Fortunately, because Nice is in Europe and the service is glacially slow, there was time to look it up on Google. It turns out that nougat comes from the nougat tree, and it can only be harvested during a certain season by an indigenous tribe. Since I read that on the internet, it is certainly true. Other less interesting sources claim that it is made from almonds, egg whites, and honey.
I would also recommend that you do not learn French before visiting Nice. I can’t imagine how boring it would be to order something and know what the server will bring 30-75 minutes later. Where is the fun in that? I prefer to look knowingly at the menu and use my mangled version of “This please”, Sa sil vou plais (imagine that with a southern drawl- Saw Seal View Play, ma’am. Mare sea.). They probably nodded knowingly, then served me whatever was leftover from the night before.
Such gastronomic perfection tends to weigh on you. Figuratively, and literally. To combat both, I recommend long walks. Europeans in urban areas typically live in small apartments, with parks serving as the shared outdoor space. You’ll find families with children, old men playing checkers, old women gossiping to and about each other, and love-struck couples showing their affection obliviously through it all. However, even the charm of this environment shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Especially after a few glasses of the above-mentioned house wine. If you can never hope to fully grasp the historical gravity and elegance of a place, you can just be silly and make fun of it…
I was encouraged to find that, despite the cultural differences on each side of the Atlantic, there are some points of agreement. For instance, Speedos are not for wearing in public:
I would also like to point out that most guys wearing Speedos on French beaches do not have the shape or hairlessness of this drawing.
In case of a fire in your tiny, overpriced hotel room, take this immediate action:
Take your skinny self out of the room, which is probably on fire because you live on wine and cigarettes. Don’t use the elevator that is old enough to have surrendered to the Germans. Notify the reception desk, where they will pretend to not understand English. They will look at you with disdain until you try a few phrases in French, and then they will admit that they do in fact speak English and will eventually address your complaint; but it should be noted that none of the other tenants have complained, and perhaps you are just not sophisticated enough to appreciate the normal amount of smoke found in French hotels.
Nice, and the rest of the French Riviera, is one of those few places where common folks like us can breathe the same air, walk the same beach, and sit in the same traffic as the rich and famous. Other than that it’s fantastic 😉