A FOMO-Free Weekend
In July, I spent a weekend in the French Riviera and save for not BFFing a handsome billionaire and yachting around St. Tropez, it met all of my daydreamed expectations. I’d always been curious to know what the French Riviera was all about, so when I realized I had the chance to visit around work travel, I went for it.
In this post, I share some places to go, foods to eat and where I stayed.
Nerd camp put a twinkle in my eye…
My interest in the French Riviera goes way back to my nerdy teen summer camp days when I went to take classes (chemistry and physics!) on a college campus with other socially awkward kids with a thirst for academic enrichment. My friend, Victoria, nonchalantly told us her next summer destination was Nice on the French Riviera with her friend’s family. What?! A town named Nice (pronounced Niece) and “riviera” sounded so exotic and fancy – much more sophisticated than going “down the shore” in NJ with my friends and the BYOEverything beaches I visited with my family in the Carolinas. We laughed with her about this private school kid travel life and I filed it away in the category of mysterious rich people things to investigate one day.
Years later, my friend Steven, who was getting his PhD in Choral Conducting, took a youth choir to the South of France and came back with tales of Rosé bottles plunked down on every restaurant table. We listened, giddy with excitement of a land where pink wine ran freely. Fast forward to this summer and I was more than ready to eat, drink and explore.
Still a nerd… I love a good tour
When I travel to a new city, I like to take an organized food or historical tour. Yes, it’s nerdy, but walking or biking around a city with a local guide is a great way to learn about the heart of a place from people who are generally passionate and excited to share what they love most about their chosen home. When it comes to restaurant recs, let’s face it, 4-stars on Yelp don’t mean what they used to these days. Instead, I prefer talking with my tour guide and getting recommendations for places to check out during the rest of my stay. Lastly, when you’re traveling solo, it’s also a chance to meet and connect with other people, often from around the world, who are also looking to explore.
I arrived in Nice on a Friday afternoon and took the “Taste of Nice” food tour through Nice Cycle Tours . It takes your around different food spots in the Old Town (Vieux Nice), stops for dinner at a local Nissarde restaurant and finally, dessert at a favorite local spot. Our host Hannah was lovely – knowledgeable and warm and it was clear she really cared about giving us a great experience. I’d recommend this tour for those who like:
- Learning a bit about the history and culture of Nice and why they eat certain foods
- For example, I learned that pasta is traditional to Nice because it was long under Italian rule, and didn’t become French until 1861. I def would have questioned the legitimacy of all the pasta spots I saw otherwise.
- Want insider tips of what to look for and avoid for great food
- Don’t feel like planning every detail of their day but want to cover a lot
- Enjoy hearing about the local culture from a local or transplant
Beach day in Cannes
One recommendation I got from the tour was to go to Cannes for a day on the beach because it has a sand beach and not the rocky shoreline you find in Nice. I took that advice and had a dreamy Saturday at a beach club in Cannes. I wrote about my trip and beach clubs here.
Finding traditional Niçois restaurants
I only had two dinners in Nice. One place I didn’t love, so no need to share. The other was a charming spot in the Old Town, but I could only try one dish because of my nut allergy and the restaurant owner’s concern about cross contamination. Whomp, whomp. That said, I did learn a valuable tip for finding restaurants serving authentic cuisine that I wanted to share with you.
Nice has its own distinct cuisine with numerous iconic dishes that may be missed in the sea of French and Italian restaurants you’ll encounter. To find restaurants serving legit local food, check this list of “Cuisine Nissarde” restaurants or look for this logo displayed at the restaurant. The Cuisine Nissarde quality label was established in 1995 “to defend and promote traditional home-made Niçois cooking”. Today it’s managed by the Nice convention and visitor’s bureau. From their website:
The restaurants covered by the “Cuisine Nissarde” label agree to cook traditional Niçois specialities (a minimum of three recipes) defined by this Committee, in accordance with the listed recipes. They must also:
- Ensure the quality of the products,
- Have a knowledge of Nice’s history and heritage,
- Pay careful attention to factors such as hospitality and the provision of information,
- Comply with all health and safety regulations,
- Display a plaque in their window confirming that they are covered by the label
Gelato! of course
There are many gelato spots in the Old Town; some across a narrow street from one another. I tried the gelato at Gelateria Azzurro my first night in town and came back the next. This place is known for being the #2 ice cream spot in France (there’s a sign!!) and their homemade waffle cones. Given the pace of business, I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and patient the servers were. I tasted some of the floral flavors I hadn’t encountered anywhere else – violet, jasmine, lilac?! Violet was lovely but a bit too much for a whole scoop. I’m sure there are some really interesting flavor pairings to uncover with a bit more time. I opted for the white chocolate and cherry vanilla because they were clearly both nut-free and furthest away from my mortal enemies (I know, still dicey but I’ve made it this far).
Late Saturday night, I learned that my friend, Zoë was also in Nice for the weekend!! A special thanks to Instagram stories and an observant friend (Kathleen) for connecting us. We decided to meet up Sunday before I left to eat lots of things and walk around.
First things first, I knew I had to get my hands on some socca, a popular local snack that I’d been hearing about. Socca Tram is supposed to be the best place in Nice but it was far away. Instead, we went to Chez Theresa in the Old Town (and close to our other food stops) and enjoyed the socca there. Imagine a ground chickpea pancake that’s baked in a hearth oven and is smokey and charred, yet creamy and crunchy. I’ve had nothing else like it. You can get a slice and walk and eat picking up bits with your fingers. ***Fun historical fact alert** This delicious snack that was likely created after Turkish invaders left mounds of chickpeas behind centuries ago.
The Turks must have left a very big mound of chickpeas, because panisse, or chickpea fries, is also a popular side dish or accompaniment. Like french fries, people have preference and these can vary in deliciousness. The ones I had on my octopus salad in Cannes were crispy on the outside and with a creamy interior, I’m game..
FOUGASSE & PISSALADIERE
Fougasse is a French sister of Focaccia and comes in distinct sculpted shape. It can be studded with bacon, onions, olives or other flavors. Pissaladiere is a flatbread dough that’s covered with caramelized onions, black olives and traditionally anchovies. I actually remember watching Julia Child talking about it as a kid watching PBS. We got the orange blossom water fougasse and pissaladiere with anchovies at La Fougasserie, a wife and husband owned bakery using high quality ingredients and natural, slow fermentation techniques. There are many enticing pastries in this shop, so we scopped a couple others, including that marzipan pig (see below), and took our carbs to the beach. The Promenade Anglais along the Mediterranean and entrance to the beach is only a few steps away and stuffing our faces under a gentle sea breeze just seemed right. I think Julia would have approved.
I’m please to report that all our treats were tasty. As I sat on the hot, stone (not pebble) beach eating slightly sweet orange scented bread, I had two thoughts: 1: this beach with piercing blue water steps from an ancient is unbelievable 2) I need some rose. Alas, I had to head to the airport and had no time to stop for wine. Notes for next trip!
Where I stayed
There were many options across the price spectrum when I booked a month in advance using the typical travel search spots. In optimizing quality with price and location, I landed with the Best Western Brice Hotel. It was a few blocks from Promenade Anglais, close to all of the restaurants on Massena St and about a 15 minute walk from the Old town. All rooms include the daily breakfast buffet with a sizable spread and very decent pastries. You can enjoy breakfast in their private courtyard but be warned of the very aggressive birds you must battle for your food. I learned the hard way. It’s not posh but comfortable and convenient.
The staff is known for being hospitable and I found that to be true. Yep, I tested this when I accidentally entered the wrong pass code and couldn’t get my passport out of the room safe the morning I was leaving. Yikes. I called the front desk and they sent someone to rescue me in minutes.
While I was only in town for a weekend, I definitely understand the allure of the French Riviera. Sure, there some tourist traps and plenty of luxurious villas and yachts beyond the dreams of most of the Real Housewives, but there are also many charming, approachable, and distinct spots that capture the rich history and culture of the region. I left wanting to be a local. For weeks after, I checked online property listings after seeing that waterfront condos in Nice could be cheaper than the ones down my block. SERIOUSLY! My search may be on hold after considering the price of the flights to get to my supposed “weekend getaway”, but I hope to return again soon. Have you been to this region? If so, let me know what you enjoyed and where should I go next time!