French Riviera: Nice & Cannes (11/29/03)

Last updated 12/03/03                                                                                                                                

The lovely seaside resort town of Nice met us with sunshine, palms right beside Christmas trees (the season is approaching, you know), some inevitable construction work, beatiful views of the beach, harbor full of yachts, and did I mention the sun and the beach? End of November may not be the time to visit French Riviera if you are looking for a standard vacation on the beach, but the near-absence of tourists and warm, sunny weather can make Nice a truly nice place to be even in winter. (Note: the feeling is quite different when it rains.)

There is special joy in walking that boardwalk promenade lined with palm trees when you don't have to push your way through crowds while observing hundreds of frying bodies on the pebbles (the beaches here are mostly pebble, not sand). You still get to see rollerskaters (and even some guys on Segways), buy fruit and flowers on a busy street market near the waterfront, gawk at the premium yachts in the port, and enjoy wonderful birds-eye views of Nice and the Bay of Angels from Le Chateau hill. The 92-meter-high hill holds the remnants of an old fortress up top (it was destroyed by Napoleon's orders for no good reason that we know of), a cemetery, some children's playgrounds, lots of people practicing tai-chi, and an impressive cascade in a jungle-like setting. It's a pretty strenuous workout to get up there and back down again, and we highly recommend undertaking this exercise to anyone who intends to sample cuisine of the South of France.

The local specialties are all deep-fried and very yummy: "beignets" are not doughnuts, like in the rest of France, but breaded fried slices of vegetables like eggplant and zucchini, and "farci" are stuffed vegetables (tomato, bell pepper etc.) with chickpea-based stuffing, also fried. We didn't get to try a Nicoise dish of "socca" -- chickpea pancakes -- because there's only so much fried food one can eat in a day. By the way, the Nicoise salad known in the States (tuna and boiled egg on a bed of greens with vinaigrette dressing, plus optional tomatoes, string beans and boiled potatoes) really does come from Nice and they call it the same name. Baguettes here as just as good as anywhere else in France, wines are decent, and coffee served by the spoonful (always ask for a "grand" if you want to get more than an espresso cup).

Now, if you happen to go to Cannes (yes, home to the famous film festival) on the last day of November, a Sunday, when the weather is cloudy about to turn rainy, your best bet for food may turn out to be Subway sandwiches. Cannes looked like a ghost town. There were literally a few people (better to say, persons, because there weren't enough of them to add up to a faceless mass of "people") on the beachfront sidewalk, and virtually nobody on the inner streets, except for a line of kid-laden families at the movie theater. I guess Sundays are quiet here in general, unless we're talking summer season, and a rainy Sunday is certainly the day to stay indoors. Shops and cafes were closed, the beach looked uninviting due to the weather, the mood felt desolate, so we took one look at the conference center where they hold the film festival, felt the first drops of rain on our faces, and headed back to Nice after that Subway lunch.

Bottom line: Nice can be nice even out of season, but Cannes can not. (Sorry -- these placenames are a pun just waiting to happen.)


                            Sun, palms and yachts

                            Beach promenades

                     Cannes. Winter. Sunday. Cloudy. Forlorn.