The Streets, Parks, and Paths of Nice
Updated: Apr 22
By Charlie McCabe
Often, my wife and I try to take a trip to get a taste of spring in March. Winter in Boston tends to continue for a while (although it's been pretty snow-less this year), and while you still might encounter storms upon your return, it breaks things up a bit. We know we're lucky to be able to do so and a cache of frequent flyer miles allowed us to reduce our expenses quite a bit. So, instead of Florida or the Caribbean, we headed to southern France, specifically the city of Nice, a city of 400,000+ on the Côte d'Azur.
The Blue Coast, or the French Riveria, is often the destination of people with more means, shall we say, beginning in May with the Cannes Film Festival, the Monaco Grand Prix, and general yacht /jetset activities. There were a few yachts in the harbors during our visit, but mostly it was the locals and a smattering of tourists like us. The weather was great, highs in the low 60s, brilliant sun most days, and early flowers, shrubs, and trees starting to leaf out.
A game of Boule in a neighborhood park
A key reason for traveling here is that it's easy to get around by public transportation. (We try not to rent a car on vacation if at all possible.) Most destinations are a short train trip of about 20 minutes (Monaco or Cannes, for example) or a longer bus ride, both of which often follow the twists and turns of the road built on the side of the hills rising up from the beaches. You can even hike from one city to the next village along public trails hugging the coastline.
We split our time in Nice (three nights), Villefranche (small town east of Nice, two nights) and Antibes (bigger town west of Nice, two nights). We were supposed to do an overnight and a full day in Marseille, but a one-day transit strike put a halt to those plans, so another night in Nice it was.)
A hike hugging the shoreline around Cap Ferrat (near Villefranche)
And if you're wondering about winter storms here in Boston, either before or after our trip, we had one the day before (mostly snow) and the day after (mostly heavy rain, some snow)
Of the several cities and towns that we visited, Nice had the most parks, ranging from plazas to traditional squares and an oceanside promenade and public beach. This is a dry Mediterranean climate, with cool winters and hot summers, so the trees and plants reflect that aspect. One of my favorite parks was a plaza that served as an extension of the central library as well as an entrance to one of the underground light rail lines.
(Above and below) - Plaza incorporating the light rail station and the entrance to the public library
One of the bigger parks is a series of interconnected plazas built over a portion of the main river that cuts through downtown Nice. (It also has some museums, a convention center and some questionable '70s/80s plazas.) It boasts shade, seating, public restrooms, multiple playscapes, and the largest sprayground I've ever seen. While it was not quite warm enough to run through the dancing waters (didn't stop Sara, though), it was operating and must be a great destination on hot summer days. A selection of photos of this plaza/park follows.
Another cool aspect of Nice, in addition to a great public transportation system (light rail, frequent buses, regional rail system) was the growing interconnected system of sidewalks, bike lanes, and streets. Going beyond painted lanes, they've placed planters or other barriers to create a vegetated median between the motor vehicle lanes and the bike lanes and sidewalks. Here are a few "cross-sections" of a street near our hotel:
Finally, on the eastern end of the Nice promenade is a big destination park, up a set of steep steps or a looping set of paths. The views from the park out to the Nice promenade (to the west) and harbor (to the east) are amazing, and there are cool works of art tucked into the paths and plazas, including a number of mosaics.
Everyone comes for the views, however.
Above, looking west onto the promenade and the beach. Below, looking east into the sheltered harbor.
Overall, a great trip and wonderful break.
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