Eighteen years ago, when I was but a wee lass in college having her first tour of Europe, I and my then-boyfriend landed in Nice. We visited no museums. We had little money. And yet, the memories of those few days have stayed with me all this time.
Returning to Nice after all this time was educational. Literally. I lucked out in connecting with Caterina Prochilo, the multi-lingual press coordinator for the Nice Côte d’Azur Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, who was kind enough to show me a side of Nice I hadn’t experienced all those years ago. Here’s what I learned this trip.
1. There’s Not Actually a Castle on La Colline du Château
When Caterina told me we were headed to the castle, I scratched my head. Surely I would have known there was a castle in this town. Actually…there’s not, at least not anymore. Where there was once a “reputedly impregnable citadel,” there is now a lovely park that overlooks the coast and harbor. Apparently, in 1706, the soldiers of the French King Louis XIV found a way to…impregnate? That’s not the word I’m looking for…anyway, they destroyed the castle, but the park still keeps the name: Parc de la Colline du Chateau.
2. Every Day at Noon, a Cannon Will Go Off
“I should warn you,” Caterina said, as we wound our way through the open air market on the Cours Saleya, “every day at noon, a cannon goes off here. I don’t want you to be frightened.”
I looked at her, puzzled. She continued.
“Legend has it that a British gentleman would set the cannon off each day to remind his wife to come home for lunch. She was often late.”
I laughed out loud. How preposterously lovely a story. I kept checking my watch so I wouldn’t be taken unawares. When noon finally did hit, we were in a courtyard in Old Town. A few people flinched. Primarily it was the pigeons who responded with indignance. I guess a lifetime of hearing it daily still hadn’t made them accept it.
3. There’s a Free Boat Across the Harbor
Later in the afternoon, we made our way to the harbor. Apparently, Nice is the closest point to Corsica, and there are giant cruise ship-sized vessels that take people on the five-hour journey. I loved the row of brightly-painted fishing boats, which were, Caterina supposed, only used for personal fishing, since the fishing industry had dwindled in Nice, the way it has in much of the world.
Rather than making our way back around the U-shaped harbor, she suggested we catch the free Lou Passagin boat that would take us across the harbor. For the price of a euro tip, it was a nice break from walking.
4. Maison Auer is the Only Authentic Place to Get Fruits Confits
One of our first stops on the tour was Maison Auer, a chocolaterie – confiserie that’s been creating sweet concoctions since 1820. Feeling quite literally like a kid in a candy store, I asked the friendly Antonia to tell me about the candied fruit (fruits confits).
She explained that the fruit — only what’s in season at the time — undergoes a detailed process where the fruit is poked with holes to let the water and sugar combination penetrate. It is then boiled for a month at different temperatures each day to pull the natural sweetness and flavor from fruits like clementines, pineapple, apples, and plums.
While you’ll see fruits confits at the market and other places in Nice, Maison Auer is the only place that uses this authentic process and does not use preservatives
5. Some of the Best Art Can Be Found in the Open Air
You can keep your Marc Chagall Museum. The art I found the most interesting was in Nice’s streets. Nice has a unique sort of “open air museum,” with 13 exhibits created by 13 international artists…all found along the Tramway line. I loved the idea of blending art with daily life rather than relegating it to a museum. The one in the photo above is called Conversations of Nice, and features 7 figures to represent the 7 continents. It’s much more impressive at night when each figure is lit up against the night sky.
6. The Cuisine in Nice Ain’t No Joke
Pan bagnat. Salade Niçoise. Socca. Pissaladière. Nice has its own distinct dishes, and they’re now taking center stage in the city. There is now a type of certification program that restaurants can qualify for if they serve authentic “Nissarde” cuisine. If you see the “Cuisine Nissarde” label with a woman on it at restaurants, you know it’s legit.
Lyon is the only other city that offers a cuisine that bears its name (Lyonnaise) the way Niçoise cuisine does, and there’s no other cuisine that has its own certification. To date, there are just under 30 certified restaurants in and around Nice.
Caterina treated me to lunch at Lu Fran Calin, a restaurant that proudly bears the “Cuisine Nissarde” label. And, as is only fitting in a city just this side of Italy that is so heavily-influenced by its neighbor to the east, the owner of the restaurant was Italian, and the menu was a delightful mix of cuisine Niçoise, Mediterranean, and Italian.
This won’t be my last trip to Nice. With so much more to do than I ever realized (and that siren call of a simple float in the water), there’s plenty to pull me back.
The tour and lunch were provided by Nice Côte d’Azur Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, however all opinions are my own. Because, you know, I’m opinionated!