Sightseeing – NICE (A tourist attraction that’s no longer there)

Descending by airplane to Nice Airport one of the first things you notice is the beautiful turquoise colour of the sea against the landscape – in fact, the colour lends to the name of this region, the Côte d’Azur (Azure Coast).

Not far from the airport is the end of the main waterfront road – the promenade des Anglais – which is dotted with Belle Époque hotels, beach restaurants and wide paths for strolling, rollerblading or cycling.

Nice once had a Belle Époque pier, la Jetée Promenade, that was constructed in 1882 and extended from the promenade des Anglais (opposite what is today the Ruhl Casino Barriere de Nice) and housed a casino, restaurant and arcades.

Casino Jetée Promenade

Casino Jetée Promenade

The Jetée Promenade was a dream of the Marquis d’Espouy of Saint Paul, after the Marquis visited the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London.  Looking at vintage photos it reminds me of the Brighton Pier and West Pier in East Sussex, and similar to the West Pier the Jetée Promenade also fell victim to fire damage.

Sadly, the casino and jetty structure were demolished in 1944, during World War II, by German troops, and all the bronze, copper, brass, metal wiring components and anything of value was taken by them for scrap metal.

You can find black and white vintage postcards of la Jetée Promenade at flea markets and souvenir stores.  There is an antique postcard market held in Nice on the 4th Saturday of each month, at Place du Palais de Justice.  Look for postcard markings for Sauvaigo, Rostan & Munier, G. Lemaitre & Cie, and ‘Giletta Frères, Nice’ who were three brothers renown for their photographs and making tourist posters and postcards.

A local Riviera architect has created a 3D virtual model of la Jetée Promenade Casino, as it would have looked in 1891 against a view of today’s promenade. You can view his amazing replication work at casino-jetee-promenade-nice.blogspot.fr

 

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Sightseeing – NICE (Jardin Botanique / Botanic Garden)

The Jardin Botanique de Nice is open daily and situated on the Corniche Fleurie with views across to Baie des Anges and the Massif de l’Estérel.

It is located in the midst of a residential area on a hillside, but we noticed minimal traffic noise and could hear birds and insects all the time.

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The garden contains more than 3500 plant species including trees, herbs, cacti, agaves, aloes and flowers, and is divided into zones that mimic the Mediterranean climate around the world including South Africa, Mexico, Australia and central Asia.

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If you are driving to the garden, come off the AutoRoute A8 highway at exit 51.  There is a free carpark at the entrance to the garden (with about 15 spaces including one designated disabled space) though the carpark is quite busy and even though we have a small car (Volkwagon Golf) we found it difficult to exit out of the carpark as there were cars trying to arrive into the carpark and it is very narrow entrance.

If you intend to visit the garden by public transport, there are no trains located nearby so your only option is by bus.  There is a bus stop located right at the entrance to the garden, the stop is called ‘Jardin Botanique’ (Bus numbers 8, 65 and 73, from Lignes Azur, tickets can be bought from the driver, timetable information at www.lignesdazur.com)

Within the garden, the paths are well maintained with a mixture of wide paved pathways and earth stairways, and excluding the stairways there are enough ample paved pathways so the garden is accessible for wheelchair bound people.  Points of interest include a small waterfall, ornamental ponds, small bridges and a herbarium.  There are many park benches and water fountain taps dotted throughout the garden which is lovely.

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There are two accessible toilets onsite, free of charge, located beside the gardien’s building.  I forgot to check if there were baby-changing facilities, but the toilets were very clean and spacious enough for baby strollers/buggies/wheelchairs.

Two accessible toilets at Jardin Botanique de Nice

Two accessible toilets at Jardin Botanique de Nice

There is a fenced children’s playground onsite with climbing frames, rocking horses and a merry-go-round operated by pedals.  Age suitable for children from walking age upwards.  Near to the playground are two children’s picnic tables, and two larger picnic tables which were shaded under trees.

Location:  78 avenue de la Corniche-Fleurie, 06200 NICE

Hours:  Open daily, 9am-5pm in winter, 9am-7pm in summer.

Price:  Free entry to garden, free carparking onsite, free public toilets onsite.  They also offer free guided tours in French and English only with prior reservation (duration: 1.5 hours)

Points of interest:  Cacti, trees, agaves, aloes, fenced children’s playground, small waterfall, ponds, bridges, herbarium

NOTE:  I took a photo of the map of the garden at the entrance, however it was not very good quality.  Next time I visit I will take another photo and mark an entirely wheelchair-friendly garden route and add back to this blog post.

Activities – NICE (Luna Park)

Today, the autumn chill has hit with force and our heating at home is on, warm gloves and hats are out of the wardrobe and the kitchen pantry is stocked with hot chocolate and soup.

Finding options to entertain the family in inclement weather can be time-consuming. One of the best places in the region is Luna Park – an indoor covered amusement area with rides and attractions suitable for all the family.

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carousel Luna Park

Luna Park will be open from 07 December 2013 – 05 Jan 2014 and has video games, snack stands, fishing games, archery games, carousels, mini rollercoasters, giant slides, amusement rides and more.

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BreakDance ride – Luna Park

Opening dates:  07 December 2013 – 05 January 2014

Hours:  2pm-11pm except Saturday 2pm-1am. On 24th and 31st December, Luna Park closes at 8pm

Prices:  €2 entry per person (under 3 years are free), with rides costing from €3-€5. The best value is 10 child rides for €10 (called a ‘Baby Pass’) or 15 rides for adults for €20 (‘Carte Pass) and these passes are for specific rides and valid until the park closes in January, buy at the entrance office.

Where:  Luna Park, Palais des Expositions, Esplanade de Lattre de Tassigny, 06600 Nice

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Transport:  Via tramway, stop at ‘Palais des Expositions’.  By train, stop at station ‘Gare Nice Riquier’.  If driving, carparking is nearby at Palais des Sports Jean Bouin

Activities – NICE (Madagascar photography exhibition – until 29 Sept)

One of our favourite spaces on the French Riviera for families is Parc Phoenix in Nice.  Even in the height of summer it is seldom as busy as the region’s theme parks or beaches.

Parc Phoenix is a 17-acre park located on the edge of Nice city complete with huge tropical greenhouse with fern, orchids, tropical plants and animals.  The park is 99% flat paved paths (there are some stairs inside the greenhouse), and there are accessible toilets.

There is a small aquarium onsite, a musical fountain display and various animal enclosures with birds, reptiles, prairie dogs, and turtles.  Parc Phoenix has a snack shop onsite selling sandwiches, drinks and ice-creams, and there is a fenced children’s playground with picnic area.

They often have exhibitions included as part of the entrance fee (which is just 2 Euros – a bargain for what you get – plus the entrance fee also includes entry to The Museum of Asiatic Arts next door; the modern looking building overlooking the lake at the park entrance).

One such current exhibition is by Nicolas Cegalerba, displaying photos of his travels to Madagascar and the biodiversity of the flora and fauna. It runs until 29 September 2013 in the Salle Cassini at Parc Phoenix.

There is also another exhibition on bats that runs until 05 December 2013 in the room under the ‘Pyramid’ hill just before the snack kiosk.  We sometimes see bats fly over our house at dusk here in Juan les Pins, and it was interesting to learn that of the 35 species in France, 31 of those have been identified as being present here in this region.

Recommended as a place to visit for families, anyone interested in plants and animals, travellers with reduced mobility.

Parc Phoenix, 405 Promenade des Anglais, NICE (Telephone: 04 92 29 77 00)

For opening hours go to http://www.parc-phoenix.org/

Activities – MOUGINS (Les Étoiles de Mougins)

Food, glorious food.  France is well known globally for culinary creativity and my own photos of markets bursting with vibrant fruits, tasty vegetables, tables laden heavy with cheeses and meats and delicious pastries and cakes sets off food envy amongst friends.

I have had my first-ever taste experiences here in France of wild boar stew, escargots, truffle ravioli and all kinds of sweet treats.  France has shown me the pleasure of eating socca on a paper napkin sold out of the back of a caravan in a busy town, and savouring a 5-course degustation menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a ski resort.

If food is one of your interests (and not just seen as one of the means to life), then take your tastebuds along to ‘Les Étoiles de Mougins’ this week, held Friday 14 September to Sunday 16 September.

Top chefs will be holding cooking demonstrations (including Frédéric Anton of Le Pré Catalan in Paris who some may recognise as a judge from the French version of Masterchef), there will be food and wine tasting, gourmet products for sale and music in the evenings.

The programme for this event is here http://www.lesetoilesdemougins.com/fr/edition2012/programmation

Travel tips: If you are traveling via train, take a local train to Mouans-Sartoux and you then take bus Ligne 650 to Mougins but be aware the buses are irregular off-peak.  If you are driving, the streets for ‘Vieux’ (old) Mougins are narrow and you will need to park your car at the carpark at the entrance to the village and walk up steps (therefore, not ideal for less mobile travellers).  If the gastronomy festival gets boring for the kids, head to the free Valmasque park near Mougins (via car) with forest trails, a playground and a 5-hectare lake with lotus flowers and water birds.  If you are child-free, stop by ‘Le Cave de Mougins’ at the entrance to Vieux Mougins for some tapas and wine tasting.

General information – NICE (Free WiFi)

If you are traveling to Nice until January 2013 you can be advised that the city has recently jumped onboard development and technology and they now offer 3 free-of-charge WiFi hotspots in the central city.

Whether using a mobile phone, iPad or laptop you activate your WiFi connection, search for the ‘Orange’ server and connect – it is easy and quick to use.  Between 8am-10pm users can access the internet for 30-minute periods, and there is no limit to how many times you can use it so you can reconnect as often as you like.

The 3 hotspot locations are at :

  • Place du Palais de Justice
  • Cours Saleya
  • Jardin Albert 1er
     

 

If the community trials of the free internet get good feedback, more hotspots are likely to be added around the city including locations at Place Garibaldi and Place Massena.

 

I believe this is a good initiative for Nice city, and it won’t take competition away from existing internet cafes that also offer printing, scanning, fax services and phonecard sales.

Sightseeing in SAINT-PAUL DE VENCE

The weather has been warm and sunny while my brother is here so we decided to visit Saint-Paul de Vence.

Saint-Paul de Vence is a stunning little village that is a popular tourist spot and was frequented in the past by famous artists, actors, film directors and more.

St Paul de Vence (image spdv.com)

St Paul de Vence (image spdv.com)

The village has been greatly restored, however the remparts and streets are authentic.  You will find cobbled alleyways, art galleries, jewellery makers, shops selling olive oils, baskets of dried herbs, fragrant soaps.

My advice is to visit in the morning before midday if possible as the afternoon sees the arrival of organised tour groups and the village becomes busier.

local transport, St Paul de Vence

local transport, St Paul de Vence

How to get to St Paul de Vence:

By car: Take the A8 motorway and get off at exit 47 (Villeneuve Loubet/Cagnes sur Mer/Vence from Marseille) or exit 48 (Cagnes sur Mer/Vence) from Nice or Italy. Follow the signs on the RD436 road to ‘La Colle sur Loup/Vence’.  Saint-Paul is located between La Colle sur Loup and Vence, and only 15 minutes from the motorway.  If you drive to Saint-Paul, park your car at the Espace Sainte-Claire multi-storey carpark.  There are elevators to the street level; you must pay for your parking at the machines there before you return to your car.  At the street level, there are public toilets opposite Chapelle Sainte Claire (including accessible toilets for wheelchair users), the charge is 0,20€ (20 centimes).

By train: The nearest train station is Cagnes sur Mer and then you need to take Bus number 400 which travels from Cagnes sur Mer to Saint-Paul in around 15 minutes.

By bus: You can also take Bus number 400 from the Nice bus station (Gare Routiere) to Saint-Paul, the journey takes around 1 hour. The bus stop at the village is across from Chapelle Sainte Claire.

Now, you are ready to begin exploring this historic village.

MY TOUR 1:  Suggested walking tour in St Paul de Vence for families with baby buggies/strollers (this walking tour includes some small manageable stairs but is mostly flat and good quality paved surfaces)

Walking tour for families

1. Begin at the Espace Sainte-Claire carpark.  Across the road you will notice the small Chapelle Sainte Claire which marks the entrance to the village, from there walk left towards the main remparts and you will pass by the famous hotel/restaurant on your left, La Colombe d’Or.  La Colombe d’Or is decorated with artworks from Picasso, Leger, Matisse and other struggling artists who settled their bills with paintings.  You can’t just wander in and look around, but you can make a reservation for lunch or dinner in the courtyard terrace, or drink an apéritif in the bar and enjoy the artful surroundings.

Colombe d'Or (image Access Riviera)

Colombe d’Or (image Access Riviera)

2. Continue walking towards the village and you see Café de la Place on your right-hand side, a nice spot to enjoy a cold drink on the terrace or under the plane trees and watch the locals play boules (petanque).

3. From there, straight ahead is the Gate of Vence (Porte Royale), the stone tunnel entrance to the village.  However, take the lower path on the right that hugs the stone walls past Le Petite Chapelle restaurant – just around the corner is an open area where there is a small children’s playground and you can look out over the local villas and a vineyard.  The path does continue onwards from the playground but it is not paved, you are best to return to the Gate of Vence.

4. Back at the Gate of Vence, notice the arched portico, the 14th-century cannons and the fortified tower and you begin to sense the history of this hilltop village as one of the first examples in France of a bastioned enclosure.  Most tourists walk uphill on the main street – rue Grande – but just inside the gate take the first street on the right, rue de la Tour, and this leads you along the western remparts and provides great views over the landscape.

5. Walk along to the other end of the remparts until you reach another gate, the Gate of Nice, and the cemetery (cimetière).  The cemetery is the resting place of the famous painter Marc Chagall, his simple white tomb often topped with pebbles as tributes (a Russian and Jewish tradition).  Exiting the cemetery, there are steps to the right up to a lookout area for a panoramic view of the valley, mountains and sea.

6. Next, walk up rue Grande with it’s houses with doors bearing coats-of-arms.  The pathways have stone flowers and mosaics.  Look for hidden nooks in the stone walls with lanterns, religious santons and clay figurines.  You will pass via La Placette, a small square with a fountain and see the old arched doorway of an ancient stable which is now the ground-floor of the Galerie Jean Carré.  Just ahead on rue Grande, le Pontis is a small bridge over the road built in the 15th century which allowed passage between two houses situated on opposite sides of the road.

cobblestones and archways, St Paul de Vence

cobblestones and archways, St Paul de Vence

7. Turn right into rue du Pontis, then right again onto rue du Plus Bas Four.  From there you can walk left along the eastern remparts until rue de Derrière l’Eglise. Admire the cobbled streets and the view from the remparts with olive, fig and cyprus trees.

8.  Follow rue de Derrière l’Eglise onto rue Saint-Esprit and turning right you lead to the Église Collégiale, the  Collegiate church with a strong Baroque influence. Across from the church entrance, buy a mouth-watering gelato from La Dolce Italia, a small Italian gelateria.  As you savour your gelato in the church square, you will find the old keep of the Chateau which now houses the Town Hall and the White Penitents Chapel (entry for the chapel can be purchased at the adjacent local history museum).

9.  Past the White Penitents Chapel, turn right onto rue Cassette and then right onto rue du Haut Four.  This will lead you back down to the Grande Fontaine at the heart of the village, where you can admire the old fountain from 1850 with it’s wash house.

10. From there, meander down rue Grande and explore it’s art galleries and artisan stores.  Saint-Paul de Vence has a reputation as one of the ‘must-see’ towns on the Cote d’Azur, and whilst it can be agreed that it is very tourist-orientated it also has a relaxed feel.

MY TOUR 2:  Suggested discovery tour for wheelchair users, or those travelers with reduced mobility (this tour avoids the numerous staircases in the village and sticks to flat ground)

Discovery tour for wheelchair users

1. Begin at the Espace Sainte-Claire carpark.  Across the road you will notice the small Chapelle Sainte Claire which marks the entrance to the village.  There are wheelchair accessible toilets at road level here before you head to the village (the cost is 0,20€ which is 20 centimes). From here follow left towards the main remparts and you will pass by the famous hotel/restaurant on your left, La Colombe d’Or.  La Colombe d’Or is decorated with artworks from Picasso, Leger, Matisse and other struggling artists who settled their bills with paintings.  You can’t just wander in and look around, but you can make a reservation for lunch or dinner in the courtyard terrace, or drink an apéritif in the bar and enjoy the artful surroundings.

2. Continue towards the village and you see Café de la Place on your right-hand side, a nice spot to enjoy a cold drink on the terrace or under the plane trees and watch the locals play boules (petanque).  From there, straight ahead is the Gate of Vence (Porte Royale), the stone tunnel entrance to the village. See the arched portico, the 14th-century cannons and the fortified tower and you begin to sense the history of this hilltop village as one of the first examples in France of a bastioned enclosure.

3. It is quite a steep uphill tunnel, but it is paved and once you are through it you can turn right onto a flat section and avoid the uphill route.  Just inside the gate take the first street on the right, rue de la Tour, and this leads you along the flat western remparts. Travel along to the other end of the remparts until you reach another gate, the Gate of Nice.  This is at the southern end of the village where the cemetery and lookout point are located, however these two sites are not accessible due to stairs (no ramps).

4. Next, follow rue Grande with it’s houses with doors bearing coats-of-arms.  Once again, it is uphill so will require some effort but it is paved. The pathways have stone flowers and mosaics.  Look for hidden nooks in the stone walls with lanterns, religious santons and clay figurines.  You will pass via La Placette, a small square with a fountain and see the old arched doorway of an ancient stable which is now the ground-floor of the Galerie Jean Carré.  Just ahead on rue Grande, le Pontis is a small bridge over the road built in the 15th century which allowed passage between two houses situated on opposite sides of the road.

village street, St Paul de Vence

village street, St Paul de Vence

5. Turn right into rue du Pontis, then right again onto rue du Plus Bas Four.  From there you can head left along the eastern remparts until rue de Derrière l’Eglise.  Admire the cobbled streets and the view from the remparts with olive, fig and cyprus trees.

6. Follow rue de Derrière l’Eglise, turn left onto rue Saint-Esprit and turning right you join onto rue Cassette.  Follow rue Cassette until you reach the White Penitents Chapel on your right-hand side (entry for the chapel can be purchased at the adjacent local history museum). In the church square you will also see the Chateau of the old keep which is now the site of the Town Hall.  To the right is the Église Collégiale, the  Collegiate church with a strong Baroque influence (though there are steps to enter the church).  Across from this church entrance, buy a mouth-watering gelato from La Dolce Italia, a small Italian gelateria.

7. From here, head left down the rue du Haut Four, turn right at rue de l’Allee and rue de l’Etoile.   This will lead you back down to the Grande Fontaine at the heart of the village, where you can admire the old fountain from 1850 with it’s wash house.

8. From here, it is a downhill route on rue Grande where you can see art galleries and artisan stores.  Saint-Paul de Vence has a reputation as one of the ‘must-see’ towns on the Cote d’Azur, and whilst it can be agreed that it is very tourist-orientated it also has a relaxed feel.

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