The trip from Rome to Milan, then on to Genoa and the border of Italy by train turned out to be a beautiful although all day trip with several train changes. Again I must say that travel by train in Europe is the way to go. It’s clean, comfortable and much less expensive, plus you get to look at all the scenery. The trip from Genoa to the border was really beautiful as most of it was just along the coast with the sea on one side and the many towns and villages on the other. In the left photo is a mountain in the upper left that is still covered with snow not far from the French Riviera.
When we got to Nice the train station was only a few blocks from the hotel so we decided to walk. However, my directions were all screwed up and after wandering around for 10 blocks trying to find the right street, we finally took a taxi to the hotel (a 5 minute drive, but worth it). The Hotel Alba was very nice and centrally located with an easy walk to Vieux (Old) Nice. It was right on the major north-south street (Jean Medecin) of the city with a modern tramline that ran from upper Nice to the Fountain of the Sun and then northwest along Vieux Nice.
The street Jean Medecin stopped at the famous Place Massena and the semi-circle plaza with the Fountain of the Sun. The statue in the center is Apollo with other Roman and Greek Gods surrounding him.
Just beyond the fountain was the entrance to Cours Saleya and the Church called ‘St. Vrancious De Paule’. The Cours Saleya Is Nice’s famous main market place since the Middle ages. The first part of the street is the Flower Market, the largest in the Riviera followed by the Plassa dou Gouvernou, the produce market and then the famous Nice restaurant sections where we enjoyed most of our evening meals.
Two blocks beyond is the famous French Riviera with it’s long boardwalk and beautiful beach.
Next morning we took a tour bus ride to see the main highlights of Nice It’s large old 5-star Hotel called the ‘Le Negresco’ starts the promenade of casinos, hotels, jewelry and department stores all along the coast line.
One of the most unusual things we saw on the tour was this office building in the shape of a man’s head called ‘Blockhead’. The square upper part was actually offices in the block!!!
The bus tour took up through the hills and low mountains surrounding the beach part of Nice where many of the more affluent people lived. Above is the Regina Palace where Queen Victoria stayed on her visits to Nice in the late 1890’s.
The next morning was cloudy and cool and after a late morning breakfast, we again went down to the Vieux Nice to visit the Castle Hill, ‘Colline due Chateau’. The Greeks originally settled in Nice 400,000 years ago and built an Acropolis on the large hill at the east end of the Nice beach.
Later, it was occupied by the Romans and then during the middle ages a huge castle and fortification was built (shown in photo). In the early 1700’s, King Louis XIV destroyed the castle and fortifications and today all that remains are several levels of patios and walkways plus the ruins of an old church.
The climb to the top was rather questionable for two old blue hairs with over 300 steps to get to the top so we managed to locate the elevator and take the easy way!!
Our first view from the top was a look back over the famous Nice beach of the French Riviera from above. From here we could see the Bay of Angles all the way around to Antibes and Cannes, the long beach and boardwalk of Nice and the Old village of Nice below us. Because of the cloudy weather, the color of the water and building were not as brilliant as normal.
The areas below the large stone patios at the top of the hill contained a pavilion with beautiful stone sculptures such as this seahorse between the arches and the walkways were all done in stones and pebbles.
All along the walkways were beautiful stone mosaics of birds and animals.
All of the variations of color and design were done with small pieces of cut stone. The mosaics were built into a retaining wall that bordered the walkway up to the upper patios.
Partway up the path to the top of the Castle Hill were the remains of a Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary which was built in the 11th Centery and is now in the process of being restored. It was part of the original castle that was built in the middle ages.
At the top of the hill a large stone patio with walls all along the edge of the hill. On the side above the Vieux Nice we could look down on the Market Place and the wonderful restaurants of Old town.
Further on toward the back of the hill was a view of the city of Nice from above and on the top of a mountain to the west was Mont Alban Fort. It was built in the mid-1500’s to protect the Ports of Nice and Villefrance.
As we walked down toward the back of the Castle Hill we found an old cemetery of Nice and a small mustard colored church at it’s end. And Jan can’t resist visiting old cemeteries. However, we had to be discreet because a Jewish burial was being conducted in part of the cemetery.
At the back of the hill we found the stairs that lead us back down into the Old town where we had dinner,
After dinner we walking back through the Place Massena to the street of Jean Medicine and saw a beautiful sunset. It was a fitting end to our day and the end of our visits to Vieux Nice as tomorrow the last day in Nice, was a tour of the middle Corniche above Villefrance-sur-Mer with a stop at the Midieval Village of Eze then a tour of Monaco.
VILLEFRANCE-sur-MER, MIDiEVAL EZE, and MONACO
Villefrance-sur-Mer according to Rick Steves is the romantic’s choice for staying on the French Riviera! We saw it from above and it was beautiful, but we were glad we stayed in Nice. The next morning, we were picked up at our motel by a young woman driving a Mercedes SUV for a tour of ‘The Three Corniches’. The cities of Nice, Villefrance-sur-Mer and Monaco are connected by three roads along the coastal route called the Low, Middle and High Corniches. The Low Corniche travels along the coastline by the port and by the sea. The Middle Corniche is part-way up the mountain through Eze-le-Village (the ‘Citi Midievale’) and had beautiful views of the costal villages and sea below and the High Corniche is 1600 feet about the sea with breathtaking views. We took the Middle Corniche with the fantastic view of Villefrance-sur-Mer below us. The village is a Port of Call for many Cruise ships and one was in the harbor that morning. On the hill at the left edge of the left photo held one of the most expensive villas of the French Riviera although we couldn’t see much of it.
As you will see by the photos, Eze-le-Village or Mideival Eze is built just below a mountain peak which originally supported a Castle built on the very top. The original castle was built 1400 feet about the sea on a shear cliff. The castle today is a ruins, but the village itself is still a viable, beautiful monument to the middle ages and still thrives as a tourist attraction and home to the villagers.
The climb to the top from a parking lot below the village is somewhat daunting, but very beautiful and well worth the effort.
As we started through the village, we continued climbing through cobble stone streets to the old ochre church called ‘L’Eglise’ (Notre Dame de Assomption) built in 1772. It is said that the church can be seen form the see for miles and miles on a clear sunny day.
The alter inside the church contains an Egyptian Cross indicating it’s ancient past. The ceiling of the church was very beautiful and lit by both outside light from the upper windows and lighting.
Outside the church on the large patio was the cemetery cut into the mountain side and well above it was the remains of the original castle. There was a winding rock stairs cut into the sides of the rock cliff up to the castle ruins. It was very steep and long and we didn’t have time to climb it even if we had been willing.
We spent the rest of our tour time visiting the medieval village. The streets were very narrow with stone or cobble-stone paving.
Several times the path upward entered through an opening with a tunnel to another part of the village.
One of the first things that caught our attention was the variety of doorways to the various residents. Not only were they very unique in design, we all of a sudden realized that almost all the doorways were not much more than 5 feet tall! It was an indication that most medieval people were much smaller than we are today. It would have been interesting to see what the heights of the ceilings were inside the homes.
The other thing that got our attention were all the plants, flowers and trees growing out of the rock. The entire village was cut out of the rock and made out of rock. There wasn’t one building in the entire village made out of wood and all the roofs were ceramic tile.
I would assume that it was necessary due to the hazard of fire. Even the final home at the very top of the village was covered with vines and flowers.
We both would have enjoyed more time in the village, but we still had another stop to make.
A trip to Monaco is a must do when you are visiting the French Riviera. However, it sure wasn’t a highlight of the trip as far as I was concerned. It was surprising how much you can put in a small amount of area. The principality Is 2.7 x 2.5 miles (0.78 square miles) containing 36,371 people and most of the area is taken by the castle hill above. We arrived at the base of the castle hill where the Jacque Cousteau museum is located with his first deep sea submersible located out front. I was glad I didn’t have to dive in it!!!
We arrived in time for the changing of the guard at the castle which is the big event of the day. We hurried up the hill to the castle and found ourselves at the back of a very large mob. We were able to see the new guards coming out of one side house and march through the crowd into the castle and then got to see a close up of one of the guards in his little cubical.
My impression of the whole proceedings was similar to the seagull on top of the statue at the edge of the castle (notice the white color of the statues shoulders!). We didn’t get to see Princess Grace or Prince Rainer or any of their children.
Actually the castle was an unusual combination of modern (ochre) and old (greg partially visible).
We then took a vehicle tour through the city to the famous casino and the adjoining Café de Paris. The casino didn’t open until 4 pm so we didn’t get to go inside which was a disappointment.
After a brief stop at the Café de Paris, we took a drive around the rest of Monaco to see the harbor of Monaco with all the fancy yachts and boats plus the location of the Grandprix of Monaco (as seen looking down from the hill above).
We drove down onto the track where it started and then through some of it before heading back to Nice and the end of our tour.
It was actually a very fun and interesting day and especially nice have our own tour guide. The highlight to us was the Medieval Village of Ese
Next on our visit was to the French region of Provence, the gastronomical base of lower France. It is located along the Rhone River where we stayed in Arles a few wonderful days to celebrate May Day, a visit to the medieval castle of Les Baux, the magnificent Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, then a visit to Avignon and the French Popes Palace.