One of the biggest differences between our experience traveling in Italy on our honeymoon versus France is that we had to purchase almost all of our train tickets in France way ahead of time, while we purchased them on the fly in Italy. France uses high speed trains more so than Italy and according to Rick Steves, it’s best to purchase the tickets in advance.
We researched getting from Sarlat in the Dordogne region to Nice, on the French Riviera for about 10 minutes before we realized that it wasn’t going to be easy. There’s no straight path between the two cities so to get there would require four trains and a 12 hour trip.
Thanks, but no thanks.
We chose to bite the bullet and rent a car. Brad and I are adventurous people and choose to jump into things often with very little research. We both thought that driving in Europe would mean driving on the left side of the rode. So I was very pleased to see the French driving just like us once we arrived.
I was hoping for a rental car that was very European — maybe a Peugeot or a Citroen.
Instead, we ended up with a Ford. Go figure.
I’m sure this pleased Brad since he has only ever driven Fords, since both his dad and grandfather retired from the company.
After taking 20 minutes to figure out how to put the car in reverse, we were on our way. In our defense, Brad and I are both perfectly capable of driving a manual (Brad’s car is a manual); however, the reverse in the a completely different place (top left instead of bottom right) on European cars. Additionally, you have to pull the shifter up when shifting it into reverse. I have no idea if this is a European thing or a European Ford thing, but that was our experience.
It took us about 8 1/2 hours to drive to Nice and I didn’t take one single picture. The most interesting thing I observed on our road trip was that French gas stations have much better food at their attached restaurants than America (I had roasted chicken and ratatouille for lunch). Also, every rest stop and gas station had loads of picnic tables and indoor seating so people can stop and have a proper meal while traveling. No eating in the car for the French.
Overall, I really enjoyed renting a car instead of being on the train. On the train both of us can read, play games on our phones, or nap but nothing beats singing loudly in the car. It turns out they’re not really into my serenades on the train.
When we arrived in Nice, I was a little skeptical, probably because we drove in through the less desirable part of town. In case you didn’t know, Nice is on the French Riviera which is a group of swanky beaches in the south of France on the Mediterranean. It’s just east of Cannes where they have the film festival every year and very close to luxurious Monaco.
Nice was the only place where we went out on our own to find a hotel. From his guide, I got the impression that Rick Steves isn’t a huge fan of the French Riviera. He doesn’t seem like the type who likes to lie on the beach.
So, he didn’t have a lot of hotel recommendations. I did a bit of online research and we landed at Hotel Massena.
The Hotel Massena is supposed to be four star hotel. However, I’m thinking that whatever agency awards stars in Europe (or maybe every country?) is different for the States. Can anyone confirm this?
The hotel was nice enough, but it wasn’t four stars by American standards. The outside looks very glamorous, but the inside is fairly basic. It definitely had some features that I didn’t see in other hotels…like washcloths. Do French people not use washcloths? How am I supposed to wash off my waterproof mascara without a washcloth?
Anyway, I would say that this hotel is right up there with a decent Holiday Inn. We definitely got what we paid for. It wasn’t overly expensive, so I’m not disappointed in the least, just surprised that it was “four star”.
I’ve been very lucky to be able to stay in several four and five star hotels, so I feel like I know what I’m talking about here (don’t I sound convincing?). Just ask Brad. I’m a complete princess when it comes to hotels.
Yet, I’ll sleep outside in a two person tent, or better yet, a common shelter on the side of the mountain with strangers, no bath for days, and pee in the woods.
I’ve never claimed to make sense.
Moving along…here’s the tour of our room.
The desk area
King sized bed, equipped with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and some actress I’ve never seen before. Maybe a French celebrity?
Oh my gah! Who’s arm is that ?!
It’s just Brad standing in the bathtub (full clothed, mind you) being awkward.
Check out our awesome washcloth.
The view outside our window
The hallway — very art deco
I vaguely remember Brad stumbling in the hallway and blaming it on the carpet.
As soon as we blew into Nice, we decided to get some grub and check out the nightlife.
Nice is vibrant.
I invited this handsome bathtub inspector as my date.
Looking a bit worn out from the drive
We settled on La Cate Bleue after the restaurant we wanted to eat at next door, failed to be able to seat us within 15 minutes. We were starving, desperate, and not capable of making good decisions at the time.
We started with mussels that had a buttery basil sauce. This was the highpoint of the meal. So incredibly delicious. I’m a sucker for mussels every time.
Then we ordered seafood paella — which is Spanish but seemed to be the thing to do at this restaurant.
We saw it on our neighbor’s table and had to copy their choice.
Paella is a rice dish with whatever you want cooked in it — vegetables, meat, seafood, etc.
The seafood paella came with crayfish (crawfish/crawdads), some kind of meaty white fish, little octopi, a couple shrimp. It could have used a lot more shrimp and little less crayfish.
To be honest, this was really expensive for what we got and was actually lacking in flavor. Added lemon and some salt helped a bit.
It was pretty decent but not really worth it. Rick Steve didn’t put this place in his book but we were starving so we took a chance on it and missed.
After dinner, we popped into a local wine shop to get a wine from the region to enjoy in our hotel room. We walked back to the hotel through this huge palazzo. I learned this term in Italy and can’t seem to find a good English equivalent.
Each one is a different color.
These crouching figures look like they’re made of white stone during the day time, but in fact are made of some type of opaque material that light up different colors in the evening.
We returned to our hotel, had a glass of red wine from the Provence region (our next stop) and turned in early for the night.
The next morning, Brad slept late and I slept a bit later than usual. Then I got up and went and grabbed us breakfast at a tiny grocery several blocks away. Eventually, we mustard the strength to put on our bathing suits and head to the beach.
Nice’s beaches are pebble beaches and very different than what you’ll encounter in the States. While there are a few public beaches, many of them are private, which makes sense since you really need a chair to enjoy this beach. A towel over pebbles does not make for a good nap.
Our hotel had a reduced rate for several beaches (25 euros versus the 30 they would have charged us. However, Brad and I didn’t make it out to the beach until about 1 pm and didn’t want to pay for a full day. It turns out that several private beaches will allow you to pay for a half day.
We found Plage Beau Rivage as soon as we arrived at the beach and noticed that it was only 15 Euros a person for a half day, starting at 2 pm. After meandering around a bit, it was 1:45 and we thoughtthey would probably admit us at the reduced rate, since it was so close. There was also an additional 2 Euro a towel fee.
When we went to pay, the beach manager mumbled the amount and Brad handed him the credit card. ”Hold on, that’s more than 34 Euros,” I said and blocked the credit card hand off. The beach manager said they weren’t capable of giving us the reduced half-day rate until exactly 2 pm. ”We’ll be at the bar until 2 pm then.”
And that’s where we sat for the next 15 minutes where I nursed a tiny glass of white wine. They actually pour four ounce servings in France instead of the typical 5-6 oz. servings we enjoy here in the States.
Eventually, 2 pm rolled around and we claimed two chairs, two towels, and an umbrella. I read most of the afternoon until I decided that since I never really had lunch, what I really needed was a gelato.
However, we didn’t want to lose our space so we told the beach manager that we needed to go back our hotel room so he wouldn’t give away our chairs.
The block behind the beach has a lot of shops, groceries, and restaurants, so we had no trouble finding some gelato, then scampering back to our chairs quickly so we didn’t lose them.
You’d think they would save your chairs for you since you pay for them and all, but it seemed like an inconvenience for them.
Brad and I jumped in the water once, which was much colder than I expected, but I basically spent the rest of the afternoon asleep in the shade.
It was an awesome way to relax after driving almost the entire day prior and having several active days beforehand. I’m one of those people who like to see and do a lot while I’m on vacation but need a break every few days to recuperate and relax. Who wants to come back from vacation more tired than before you left?
For dinner that evening, Brad and I walked to La Cambuse which is about halfway between our hotel and the beach. It more than made up for our lackluster dinner from the night prior. I took the night off and didn’t take a single photo, enjoying every minute of it. We walked down a walkway that runs along the cliff of the beach after dinner and stopped for a glass of wine and later a cafe au lait (coffee with steamed and frothy milk). Before turning in I had quite possibly the best gelato I’ve ever had (including Grome in Florence, which is amazing) at Crema Di Gelato. It was also a Rick Steve’s suggestion; however, I just realized that. It was a lucky find for sure.
Nice was a wonderful place to relax and soak up some urban beach life. I’m very glad we visited but I wouldn’t want to have stayed more than the two nights and day and a half that we visited.
The next day, it was on to Provence…