Nice, the Hidden Gem of France

Alleyway in Nice, France. Photo: James D. Cao

When Americans go to France, they go to Paris. Paris is a beautiful city. The lights, the walkways, the buildings, and the people. Rue de cascade. There is a reason that Paris has captured the hearts of many storied writers, actors, and artists. It is a place of stories, a vibrant pulse of the country.

I have been to Europe three years ago and again only a month ago. I have been to France both times. The first was Paris, of which I remember much and lovingly wish to go back again. The second was the south of France, where I spent my day and night in Nice.

We came in from Italy before sunrise from the sea side town of Genoa. My friend and I were on a tour of four countries, where we started in Munich, Germany on a loop southward towards Rome then back up through Switzerland. The plan was to stop in Nice for a couple hours before heading to Marseilles and then staying the night there.

As the sun rose, the train from Genoa to Nice timed itself perfectly to cruise along the coast as light began to show itself.

The French Riviera or the Cote d’Azur as it is known over there is famed for the clear azure ocean and mesmerizing movements. I have read about it but never thought I would be captivated by the ocean in such a way. We booked our accommodations right there on the train.

The city itself was beautiful. I was glad that we decided to stay the night in Nice instead of Marseilles the moment that we stepped out of the train station. We ate lunch at Cafe Paul and drank coffee while we talked of the buildings we saw and the ocean in front of it.

It was a welcome change from Rome, and Paris. Two cities with steep history and bustling crowds that never ended, Nice itself felt detached from the rest of Europe. From the beginning that we left the train station, it felt that the train was the only way in and out of the city. There was nothing behind the station, it felt as if we came out of a mountain to a nestled town.

The buildings were distinctly French, but somehow with a little bit more modernity incorporated that gave it a fresh feel that did not deviate from their culture. The streets were wide and there was not that many tourists, even in June. Everything was relaxed. People were here to relax. The stress of running place to place faded with the presence of the ocean.

The architecture of everything was beautiful as is common in Europe, and especially in France. The stone buildings with the red shingled roofs gave off an air of wine and seafood that was distinctly regal.

The water of the French Riviera was what made Nice on par with Paris. The sea rivaled that of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, if not mimicking the icy color that is common in the irises of Nordic supermodels. On the beach many people swam and sunbathed. The ground was different from any beach I had been to before, smooth rocks instead of sand graced my bare feet. There was no tourist trap or any specific spot catering only to travelers. This was a place not many Americans go to or even know about, but a place unique to our neighbors across the Atlantic. A resort town for all Europeans looking to get away from the summer bustle of foreign visitors.

This was not a busy town with honking cars and yelling crowds. It was a place that had all the allure of winding alleys without the push and shove of a congested path. Nestled in the mountains, one feels as though the whole world has dissipated. All that is left is clear water and untainted French culture.

As the sun set it was hard to think of Nice as anything other than a gem when bathed in the dark red glow of dusk.

The sapphire of Southern France. What a beautiful place.

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