Have you ever traveled to a place and instantly felt connected? Like you belonged there? Though you’ve never been there before, the streets felt familiar and the smells warmed your heart? You walked along those familiar streets, a smile in your heart, simply because you felt at home in this place you’ve never been before?
I have been fortunate to grow up with amazing opportunities because of supportive parents, brother, and nephew. I’ve traveled to many places in this world and experienced different sights and cultures and food. But, a few years ago, a friend (Sunia) and I decided to travel to the Cote d’Azur for a holiday. For those who are asking themselves, “Coat day what?” The Cote d’Azur is the French Riviera. Think Cannes and Monaco. Think Grace Kelly: She was the epitome of, well, grace and sophistication. Elegance. She married a prince! Growing up, I would love to watch How to Catch A Thief with Grace Kelly. Actually, I watched a lot of her movies. Oh, The Swan, Rear Window, and High Society. I loved them. But I just remember watching How to Catch A Thief and thinking WOW. So, once Sunia and I decided on this area, I was sold and ready for this trip. And the research began.
Please note: You may be asking, “Okay, Heather, thanks for sharing, but why are you writing about this now? After taking a few years hiatus from this blog?” My answer isn’t probably the best, but after being in lockdown for months and travel being ripped from me ( I know, I know, ripped makes it sound dramatic, but exploring is in my blood, a part of who I am; so yes, it has been like an essential part of what settles my soul has been torn away from me), you begin to reflect on things. Nice has been entering my mind almost daily and I need to honor this feeling. Plus, since I’m here in Abu Dhabi for the summer this year, I gotta fill my time somehow.
Back to the story.
Shout out to the travel partner: I never gave her enough credit when we lived in the same city/country, but Sunia really is a fun person to travel with. She’s easy going, calm, and open to suggestions. I was lucky that she wanted to travel with me. Throughout the planning process, she really gave me a lot of control. And like we’ve done in the past, I came up with an activity and she did as well, so we both got to see/do things we wanted. So, Sunia, if I haven’t said it before, you are amazing and thank you for sharing this experience with me.
There were so many amazing things about Cote d’Azur, not only yachts (which I also love). I don’t want to rush this process of honoring this trip by squeezing it all into this one entry, so I plan on spreading it out over the course of a few entries. Here’s what I’ll be writing about over the next couple of weeks: St. Tropez, The Food of Nice, Cannes (short, but worthy), Monaco and Eze, Grasse and Antibes, and today I’ll share about Nice (our hotel, a childhood dream come true sort of experience, and “our beach”).
My reason for writing about this trip (and perhaps a few others) is to introduce you to a place I truly love. I hope, through reading this, you get a sense of the joy and connectedness I felt while traveling this area.
Our Hotel: Hotel West End
We decided to base ourselves out of Nice because we could easily get to the other places via train or ferry for day trips.
I am a huge beach person. Give me a lounger and umbrella, and I am a happy camper. So, when it came to selecting a hotel in Nice, I knew I wanted to have a hotel that had easy access to the beach. Hotel Negresco is a well-known hotel along the Nice Promenade. It’s beautiful pink dome screams elegance and history. The hotel has welcomed Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and even the Beatles.
We did not stay at Hotel Negresco. Instead, I looked in the same area to see if I could find a hotel that was similar (near the Promenade). In my search, I found Hotel West End, a hotel built in 1842. It sits across from the Promenade and a private beach, has a restaurant, and is within walking distance of the older part of town. I was sold! So, we booked a room at Hotel West End for our stay in Nice. Our room was roomy enough for the two of us, each having our own bed; the bathroom also had a tub. The room had a window, and if you leaned out of it, you could see the sea (I did this on several occasions). Upon check in, we were given a small plate of macaroons to welcome us to the hotel.
Our room came with daily breakfast. This was a wonderful way to start the day. Sunia and I would usually head down about 8:30. I went for the French bread on the small buffet before heading to a table. Once seated, I would pour balsamic vinegar into a small dish. I would start by tearing small pieces of bread’s center and pressing it into the balsamic vinegar. I would allow the small piece to soak up about half of the dark liquid before popping it into my mouth. When I ran out of the soft innards of the bread, I moved on to my favorite part: the crunchy crust. It was perfect. I could easily eat this everyday for the rest of my life.
I recommend this hotel if you’re staying in Nice and the Negresco is out of your budget. Though the hotel is dated and could use some updates, I would definitely stay here again.
Hotel West End at night
Another reason Hotel West End stood out to me when searching was due to the private beach across from the hotel: Blue Beach. I loved it. Hotel guests received discounts. We went quite a few times. We would stroll across the street, down the stairs, pay for the loungers and umbrella, find our spots (usually about the third row), settle down, and then ogle the servers while listening to the waves. The servers were younger men, tan, toned, and buff, wearing shorts and tight white shirts. (no photos available—I apologize to my readers). They would adjust your umbrellas if you needed them to, bring menus, take your order, bring your food….just Heaven.
I had two go-to dishes on the menu: a tomato and mozzarella salad or mussels and fries (a popular dish in this area). Of course, each dish came with bread and balsamic vinegar, so again, I say Heaven. Plus, the balsamic vinegar was a spray bottle!! Even better! When we ordered water (one should stay hydrated while lounging), the bottle came in a clear plastic tote bag filled with ice; the bags were hung on our umbrella stand, making for easy access.
Now, I do love lounging waterside, but sometimes you need to take a dip in the water. I had read about the beaches of Nice being basically pebbles, not sand. It was recommended in a guidebook to bring water shoes to wear if planning on swimming. I bought sandals for this occasion. Poor choice on my part. The first time I decided to get into the water, I easily walked across the pebbles to the water. The moment my sandals hit the water, I scolded myself. The fabric on the shoes became soaked (obviously) and so the shoes didn’t really stick on all that well when trying to walk through the shallow water. The waves weren’t gentle either. Pebbles were going throughout my sandals each time I tried to take a step. But dammit, I was determined to swim in the Mediterranean. I finally got situated and floated in the sea. The water was cooler than I prefer, but that was okay. After twenty minutes, I considered my options for getting back to my lounge chair. I could either make my way back through the wavy-too many-pebbles-shallow water, or I could attempt to climb up a small ladder hanging off a small walkway leading to the water. I went with the way I came. Mistake. I was slipping and sliding in my heavy shoes. I almost toppled over a couple of times. By the time I made it back to the safety of my lounger, I vowed to never take a dip in the water again. I was perfectly happy with the comforts of the lounger while gawking at the servers (Have I mentioned the servers, yet?). Now, I must confess, I did take a dip one more time. The second time, I decided to leave the sandals out of the equation. My sensitive soles were not pleased with this decision. In an attempt to make it up to them, I decided to use the ladder to make my exit from the sea. Yeah, that wasn’t much easier either since the ladder must have also been from the same year the hotel was built; it was rusty metal, and the rungs were about the size of small twigs, slippery due to the water. Again, I kept myself to the shore after that.
Ever since I was a young girl, about the age of 8, my favorite car has been a Lamborghini. You may ask why. Long story short: When I was in the third grade, a classmate’s father drove him to school in his red Lamborghini. The doors opened, swooping up and not like a regular car door. I was mesmerized. I was in love (with the car). And since then, owning a Lamborghini has been a dream of mine.
When searching things to do in the Cote d’Azur area, I found an ad for a company that lets you drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini for an hour. When I saw this ad, I whooped and hollered in joy and excitement. My mother thought I was a bit off my rocker, but understood once I told her about it. Within a half hour of reading about this, I had signed up. Done. Worth every penny I decided (yes, it was expensive…but really, can you put a price on dreams? For those saying yes, just shush). I even went so far as to select an outfit to wear just for the moment.
On the day of my drive, I put my black and white striped short dress on, put my hair up into a bun (to help control it in the wind), and tried to calm myself. At 4pm, I went downstairs and saw the beautiful white beast gleaming in the sun while waiting for me. I introduced myself to my driver/instructor, sat in the passenger seat, buckled my seat belt, and closed my eyes to take in this moment. The instructor turned the engine on and the beast roared to life, one sexy growl. He took off down the road, heading through the city and up to the mountains. Now, I was perfectly content letting him drive, but I did want a turn. So, he pulled off to the side and we switched seats. Excitement bubbled through me. He showed me the way to go and…it was on the curvy roads up in the mountains. Now, for those who don’t know me well enough, I should probably take this opportunity to let you know that I do not like curvy mountain roads…especially roads where one side has a huge drop. So, I tried to speed on the roads, but kept it safe. The next 40 minutes were just fabulous. Just as I belonged in the city, I belonged in that car. Okay, I admit, that statement was a bit diva-ish of me. Every time I accelerated and heard that engine, I felt the excitement vibrate in my body. The wind whipped around as I zoomed smoothly around the turns. Finally, the instructor told me it was time to head to the city. I was given the option to drive back to the hotel myself (I’m sure he was impressed with my safety first attitude) or to switch seats. There was no way that I was going to switch with him at that point, though, so I kept driving.
As we made our way back to Hotel West End, the instructor offered to take photos with my phone since I did not book the photo package (heck, I was already going to have to sell my kidney at this point, so no extra for me). Even now as I look back at the photos and watch the video of me driving along the mountain road, land on one side of us and sea on the other, I can feel that excitement. I tried to drive slower once we hit the city limits so I could prolong this experience, but the traffic light gods were not with me. I pulled up outside of the hotel. I really did not want to exit the vehicle. Luckily, the instructor took a few more photos of me in the parked beast and that gave me an extra three minutes. As I got out, reluctantly, I waved goodbye to the Lamborghini (thought the instructor did think I was waving to him) and felt a twinge as I saw it drive away.
This experience, as superficial as some may see it, reminded me that dreams are dreams. It doesn’t matter how silly they are or how serious they may be, but they can be a reality if we find the right opportunity and take the chance. So, I encourage you to think back to a childhood dream. What was it? What can you do today to help you experience that dream just once?
I belong behind in this car.
Related Question: Anyone have an extra Lamborghini they’re looking to give away?