Our eyes had been severely deprived of the sea. It was nice to have a quick reunion however our sailor instincts knew the white capping Mediterranean looked nasty, cold, and let’s not talk about the beaches. The concept of sand was lost. Where did our train leave us? Nice. Smack dab in the famous French Riviera that includes cities such as Cannes, Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco. But we were not staying in any of these cities, instead we chose our home base as nearby Vence. Huh?
We choose Vence as our home base and we enjoyed it, but others might find it boring, and a bit far away from the main stream of things. For us, Vence was cheaper, quieter, and more quaint. Stuck up in the hills it has its own version of narrow cobblestone streets to get lost in. The street address of our Airbnb in Vence could not get any more French if it tried. Fresh colorful flowers filled window boxes, and large pots along the building facades. A bicycle marked our front door. We could walk to the local mini market or go the traditional route visiting the patisserie, boulangerie, and charcuterie each separately.
Ironically in Vence we were able to find a Spanish Tapas restaurant called La Onda. This place was extremely small with no more than 10 tables. We were the last to enter and they locked the door behind us. To our knowledge we’ve never been locked inside a restaurant before! Luckily, there were two entrances, and the tapas style food was great! Let’s not forget about the flan. We’ve had Mexico’s version of flan and it can be tasty, but the Spain and French version of flan is a little more close to the roots of where this recipe started in ancient Rome and Greece.
Our host Patrick gave us the low down on the buses to take into Nice and back to Vence. We were all set for some exploring. A 20 minute bus ride, and we were dropped right onto the famous Nice promenade where we could observe beach goers, and their exceptional rock stepping abilities.
One of the cheapest things to do in Nice is walk along the 4 mile beach front promenade and soak in both the sun and the scenery. The smell of salty sea air, and the wind in your hair is all you need for a lovely afternoon. Walk along the promenade stop in a cafe or cross the street and venture through the tiny streets of the old town for shopping, and more people watching fun!
Ever since our arrival in France I was on a quest to find the perfect scarf. Scarves are a great way to keep your neck warm in the colder months, and can serve the place of fancy jewelry to dress up any outfit. I was looking for a scarf, one preferably made in France. However, further investigation on my part revealed that most of the scarves sold in both stores, and at the markets were made in China or India.
With scarf wearing being so popular in France I thought I could very easily find a scarf both designed and produced in France. I was wrong and dissappointed. The closest victory I could find happened in old town Nice at an unsuspecting store. The ladies in the store were so kind and spoke no English. Before I knew it, I had an assortment of scarves wrapped around my neck. “C’est jolie!” they said. The labels on these scarves said they were created in France, designed in France, but made in India. I was SOLD!
St. Paul de Vence
Its not official, but personally we would describe St. Paul de Vence as the more handsome hill-town older brother to Vence. A short 5 minute bus ride from Vence dropped us at the entrance to the town. In the 14th century Nice switched its allegiance from Provence to the County of Savoy. St. Paul assumed a strategic position becoming a border stronghold. The ramparts surrounding the town were built in the 14th century and then reinforced again by François I, after the armies of Charles V – King of Spain occupied and besieged the town in 1536.
Walking along the ramparts of the hill town with your gelato in hand, you feel an amazing sense of security. Perched high above the valley you can see miles in any direction. The stone buildings are adorned with solid wood doors and window frames, making it easy to step back in time long enough to consider this village once had 5 bread ovens, 5 oil mills, and 2 flour mills. An aqueduct was constructed to drive all the mill wheels! Now the buildings are filled with local homes, shops and restaurants.
Near the entrance of town is Place du jeu de Boules. This is where you’ll find locals gathering to play the popular game of boule because the ground is flat and made up of a coarse rocky sand. It’s great to sit back and watch a few games. Before long you’ll know how to play.
We took a day trip to Monaco because we felt like we had to since we were so close. But really we were not that close. It took quite a long time to get there from Vence. Plus we made the mistake of getting off the bus in Nice way too early. We had to walk 2 miles to the next stop to catch our bus in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Let’s just say, by this point we were both grouchy pants.
We did enjoy the dockside view of the marina at Villefrance-sur-Mer. The bus ride to Monaco was exceptionally beautiful as we passed the coastline. The bus stops were well marked for each stop that was approaching.
Monaco is its own small country with France bordering it on three sides. It is known as a playground for the rich and famous. It’s curvy narrow streets play the role of a racetrack for the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix every year. The Monte Carlo casino is one of the top attractions. We were all set to try our luck, but turns out we hit the jackpot before we even set foot inside! One of us forgot our identification for admittance. Score! We left the casino with the same amount of money we had before we even started. We used that to enjoy a very nice Italian dinner at a hole in the wall place up the street!