When I booked flights for a mini spring vacation in Nice, I was not expecting to spend so much time hiking along the Côte d’Azur. I imagined lazy, sun-soaked mornings reading books at cafés and long afternoons spent perusing local shops. Instead, I climbed two mountains and a really big hill, spanning three cities across southern France. And I loved every second.
To be fair, my first morning on the Côte d’Azur was exactly what I pictured: I had a (truly) petit déjeuner at Marinette, a charming café tucked away on a winding side street in Vieille Ville, or Old Town. I read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt while I enjoyed a smooth hot chocolate (from one of the most beautiful mugs I’ve ever seen) and ate a delightful white chocolate and raspberry muffin. I even spoke French with the waitstaff! Nice and relaxing.
After spending a few hours wandering the city, I decided to hike up Colline du Chateau, or Castle Hill. I use the term “hike” loosely because the pathways leading up are all paved, making the ascent simple and breezy. The higher up the hill I walked, the more sweeping the views. I kept pausing and turning around to savor the scenery: the scattered orange-roofed buildings, the distant hazy mountain skyline, the impossibly blue ocean kissing the shore. At the top of the hill, I found restaurants, parks and old ruins, where locals and travelers alike take breaks from the hustle and bustle of the city below.
Then, I walked down the other side of Castle Hill into Nice’s Port Lympia. But instead of relaxing by the sea, I kept walking and started the trek up Mont Boron. What I forgot, until about halfway up as I was sweating and my calves were burning, is that “mont” is short for “montagne,” or mountain. I was climbing a mountain, and I was not at all prepared: wearing casual sneakers, jeans and a nice blouse. But there was no turning back. I kept climbing up, stopping periodically to not only catch my breath but also check out the breathtaking views (ba dum tis).
On my hike up, there were few tourists around (I could probably count the number of tourists I saw on my hands). This was a blessing, because it allowed me to appreciate nature and the peace it offers. However, it meant getting photos of myself to capture my conquering of the mountain were difficult to obtain. Luckily, a few kind souls (plus my selfie-taking abilities) were able to capture the feat.
Instead of heading back down Mont Boron the way I came, I descended on the other side into the teeny seaside port town Villefranche-sur-Mer. I walked along the coast, explored the winding streets, then had a cozy dinner to myself at an outdoor table at a port-side restaurant, Trastevere. I watched the sun slip down below the horizon, which is one of my favorite pastimes.
The following day, I told myself I would relax. I didn’t. I took the train to Èze-sur-Mer, and decided to walk up to the medieval Èze Village, since it was about an hour’s walk away and the weather was lovely. What I didn’t realize was that I was about to walk up Chemin de Nietzsche (“Nietzsche’s Footpath”), so called because Friedrich Nietzsche would walk the steep trail every day (every day!) in the 1880s and it provided inspiration for the third part of his novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
It was an hour of walking straight up a mountain side, often on paths completely covered in rocks. But it was beautiful, and really did allow me time to think and to ~be one with nature~. The town itself was quaint with lots of artist studio shops. The people were wonderful as well: the only reason you find yourself in a hard-to-reach mountaintop town on the southern coast of France is because you choose to be there.
I missed the bus to the bottom of the hill, so I walked another hour back down the trail. At the bottom of the hill, a short walk from the train station, is a beach that was just completely deserted. Well, save for a silhouette or two a little ways down the coast. It was such an escape from the crowded boardwalk of Nice, and I enjoyed taking the time by myself to smell the salty air and listen to the waves crashing into the shore.
The next day, I didn’t so much hike as I toured the coast. I rode the bus to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and took an easy, beautiful walk along the water. The paths were stone-paved with very few other travelers. The day was sunny with a light breeze off the sea: perfection. From certain points along the walk, you can see Monaco and Italy in the distance.
I almost didn’t make it to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, but I’m thrilled that I did. It truly allowed me to find the peace that being with the sea always brings me, centering me after a few weeks of non-stop study abroad schoolwork.
Now that I’ve explored a few small towns on the Côte d’Azur, I want to explore them all. The way of life is different than what I’m used to, but I love it: slower, easygoing, just enjoying life and the world that surrounds us. It’s a mentality I’ll now strive to maintain among the masses of emails and deadlines that fill my days. Instead of stressing about work all the time, I’ll make more of an effort to enjoy the present and make the most of each moment.
Have you ever been to the Côte d’Azur? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments below!
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