My desire to visit the south of France was the impetus for our European vacation. The colorful, sun-washed buildings and deep blues of the French Riviera have been calling my name for years.
Because the trek to Europe from California is such a haul, I figured I'd extend our time there as much as possible. Garrett's love of scotch spurred the idea of visiting the whisky hub of Islay, and so Scotland was added to the agenda. It'd been some time since we visited our family in Ireland, and so that was added to the plan too. And because it was much cheaper to fly into London, that was tacked on to the beginning of our vacation.
The time spent in London and Ireland with Lizzie and Scotland with Garrett was as wonderful as expected. But because I'd been pining after visiting the French Riviera for so long, I was extra excited for this part of the trip.
Nice, with its rocky beaches and blue-shuttered apartments, immediately stole my heart. Its warm temperatures and laissez-faire attitude were welcome after our two weeks spent in the much cooler UK and Ireland. We flew into Nice from Edinburgh—with a run through the Brussels airport to make our connection—and stepped off of the plane buzzing with excitement. The time for beaches, wine, and baguettes was upon us!
Garrett and I got in to Nice late on Friday, Bastille Day. We painstakingly found our Airbnb in the heart of old town (so many of the roads were closed off for the holiday celebrations), checked in, and went for a walk before calling it a night.
Above all things, Vieux Nice is full of color. Buildings of pinks and oranges and reds and yellows jut up into the sky, blocking out the sunlight and keeping the streets cool. Aqua blue shutters are thrown open to catch any semblance of a breeze as the day's laundry hangs from balconies. Stalls of Provence soap in lavender, rose and jasmine are at every corner, cups of chocolate gelato in every hand. Silver fish from the morning's catch line market tables next to the stuck pig and hanging meat at the butcher's. Faded euros change palms and baguettes are tucked into bags. White cigarette smoke curls up into the air while people walk slowly, effortlessly through the bustle.
Come Saturday morning, we woke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Garrett suggested starting the day by shopping the markets for a meal, so we weaved through the tight walkways of Vieux Nice in search of lunch makings. We had prosciutto sliced for us at the Cours Saleya and wheels of cheese cut for us at a fromagerie. We picked up a warm baguette at a boulangerie and grabbed two bottles of wine from the shop around the corner. (Little did we know, this would make up most of our diet for the remainder of our time in France: bread, ham, cheese, wine.)
We brought back our bounty to the Airbnb to luxuriate in air conditioning, and then headed back out to explore.
After walking along the Promenade des Anglais and stopping for a glass of rosé , Garrett and I broke the heat of the afternoon by going for a swim. There was nothing quite like stumbling down the slippery slope of rocky beach into bright blue water and turning around to see the city of Nice curving around you.
Following our swim, we decided to go out on the town. We dined on a sub-par Niçoise meal while drinking an excellent bottle (or two) of wine before heading off into the night. Somehow, we landed ourselves in the basement level of a bar that was empty except for a small group of the most stereotypically beautiful French girls I've ever seen. 1960s music came through the speakers, pumping the Isley Brothers through the air as the girls shimmied and rolled cigarettes. Soon enough, we were all dancing, and the basement filled with people from Nice, Germany, Africa, and all over. It was a fantastically French night.
Our late Saturday night made for a late Sunday morning. Garrett and I slept in, stopped for coffee and a croissant, and slowly made our way to the beach. The clubs with chairs were full for the day, so we bought some thin beach maps and stretched out on the rocks like the locals do. And, also like the locals do, I sunned topless and shamelessly in public for the first time in my life.
Tired from the sun and our hangovers, Garrett and I made our way back to our Airbnb to freshen up for dinner at La Rossettisserie, which was a recommendation of my friend Kami and one of the best meals we had in Nice. The food was simple, delicious, and inexpensive; the service and environment were wonderful. If you have the chance, go!
Come Monday, Garrett and I were ready to venture out of Nice and explore more of the Cote D'Azure. After walking around in circles for a bit, we finally found the correct bus stop and headed west along the coast to Èze, an old medieval town perched at the highest elevation on the French Riviera.
As the bus snaked along the side of a mountain, I silently took the views in with awe. The woman seated next to me started speaking to me in French, of which I only understood about 50%, until she asked me where I was from. "Je suis américaine," I responded, to which she replied "Non! Je pense que...I thought you were...Parisienne!" Which might have been the best compliment I've ever received. We went on speaking in broken French and English for the duration of the drive, until all of the sudden, we were in Èze.
Garrett and I spent our morning winding our way through the high-walled streets, stopping for coffee and jus d'orange at the Chèvre d'or. If I could spend every morning for the rest of my life waking up to the view that unfolds at the edge of the Chèvre d'or, I firmly believe I would want for nothing else.
We loved the little luxury hotel so much that we returned promptly at noon to secure a table on their outside patio. We were treated to having the space to ourselves for quite some time before others started trickling in, and enjoyed our solace with a bottle of champagne and a lovely lunch in celebration of our five year wedding anniversary.
On our way back from Èze we decided to stop in Villefranche-sur-Mer to break the heat with a visit to the beach. We got temporarily lost from getting off of the bus too soon in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, but despite our detour were able to get to Villefranche just in time to rent front-row chairs on the beach and split a bottle of rosé.
Our fourth and final day in the south of France was spent in utter relaxation. We rented chairs at Castel Plage, indulged in our final bottles of Provence wine, and swam in the blue blue waters of the Riviera.
For our final dinner, we picked up fresh ravioli from a ravioli stall, canned sauce from the market, and dined in while packing and reflecting on our luck to have spent such a magical few days in Nice.
London, Ireland, and Scotland all felt like extensions of home. We weaved into the fabric of their cultures seamlessly and acclimated to their lifestyles effortlessly. Nice was a different story. Garrett and I felt as if we stuck out like sore thumbs purely by our size and stature. At times it was challenging, even frustrating, to feel so different, but mostly, it was so good to be in a place so different from who we are and what we know. The French Riviera is colorful, sexy, whimsical, and laid back. All good things that we could let influence our lives for the better.