I left Barcelona really early in the morning on January 3rd to catch a flight to France. After a strange layover in Munich where a man screamed at me and called me “nuts” for walking past him on the escalator, then another man asked to see my passport while buying a bottle of water, it was a relief to get to Nice. Google maps told me that there was not a bus running from the airport to the hostel, so I walked 1.3 miles to catch one that would get me there. Later, I learned that there is indeed a bus that runs straight to the airport from near the hostel. Oh well. It was a good sweat in the 55*F sunny weather with my parka and snow boots on, and the whole walk took place along the Mediterranean Sea.
Because I spent 8 days in Nice and really “kicked my feet up” here, I will change the format of this post so it’s not a day-by-day recount. I had plain yogurt and figs every day for breakfast, cooked in the hostel kitchen a handful of nights, and spent a lot of time exercising, meditating and reading on the beach.
Exercise + Mindfulness:
I attempted to go to the ONE Crossfit gym in town my first day there just to learn that literally every one of their classes was full for the whole week! Luckily, nature provides us not only a free gym, but a beautiful one! Almost every morning I did some combination of exercise on the beach: distance running, sprint workouts, plyometrics, Pilates, yoga. I tried to carve out time each day for meditation, reflection and journaling, which I had been committed to doing at least four days per week thus far on my trip. For meditation, I either tune in to a Tara Brach podcast or practice focusing on breathing and releasing thoughts. In Nice, on the beach, I would often just breath and listen to the waves. Sometimes towards the end of a meditation session, I will take in a deep breath and think of someone I’m thankful for, then think of someone else as I let that breath go. This is something that I picked up from my favorite yoga instructor back home, and it is a practice that I love. I highly recommend it. We first did 10 breaths, which is 20 people! But I had no problem with that number of people so on my own, I just let it keep going.
Relaxing by a beach usually indicates reading, as well, and for me that was no exception. Having finished Wild, I began my first books of the year: Blue Mind (a perfect read for the beach) and The Things They Carried (recommended by a friend). A dietitian friend who’s in her late 40’s told me that when she was 30, she started an annual tradition to read as many books as her age. I really like that idea, so this year I’ve committed to reading at least 32 books. Three books a month seems pretty reasonable to me, and with how amazing Goodreads is, keeping the “want to read” list full is so easy! If you’re an avid reader, too, please friend me on Goodreads 🙂
The first night in Nice, I took my Kindle out to Pizza Cresci. Now I know what you’re going to say… pizza? In France? Well, yes. I did this twice. One (Pizza Cresci) was the worst pizza I’ve experienced on the trip while the other (Les Amoureaux) was the best (of my trip… I only had pizza twice in Italy, and I didn’t go to Naples). So I think that’s fair. Anyway, Pizza Cresci is famous for their large, crescent shaped pies. The one I ordered had capers, anchovies and tomato sauce, no cheese. It just wasn’t good. The tomato sauce was too sweet and tasted (and looked) like it may have been canned and it was expensive for what it was. “Expensive in Nice?! Wow, imagine that…” you might say, but I had no problem finding very affordable meals in South France.
Why pizza fits into a healthy diet
First of all, our bodies run on carbohydrates (unless you alter your chemistry so that you run on ketones). Although white flour is not the most healthful source carbohydrates because it lacks fiber and (if not enriched) the other vitamins lost by removing the the outside of the grain, if you maintain an active lifestyle white flour can be a “sometimes” food. You can always add fiber to your pizza in the form of vegetables, or have a salad, too. Alternatively, where you can find them or at home, pizza dough can be made with whole wheat, chickpea, or other alternative flours. Secondly, tomatoes contain lycopene, a potent anti-oxidant which has been proven to reduce the risk of testicular cancer in men, and are also a great source of vitamin C. That said, processed tomatoes contain more bioactive lycopene than raw tomatoes, which means tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, etc are even better for you. Third, you can put almost anything on a pizza. Vegetables, fruits, proteins, dairy, heck even more carbs! At Pizza Cresci, I had one with anchovies and capers, no cheese. At home, I love to make a basil-pesto pizza with chicken, broccoli and sundried tomatoes, or I enjoy the Hawaiian style pie from We The Pizza, and I’ve always loved the combination of banana peppers and onions if I can’t find anything else. No matter your dietary restrictions (paleo, vegan, gluten free, etc), we live in 2017 and somewhere, somehow, there is a pizza out there suitable for you.
Moving on. As I meandered through the streets it was obvious that France, in general, was more expensive than Italy. For instance, I saw the Aperol Spritz advertised anywhere from $8-12 (remember… they were $2-3 in Venice). Thus, I did some research on cheap eats in Nice and got quite a nice list of recommendations from Best of Nice ….
Almost all of The Restaurants I Dined In came from this list:
- Lou Pilha Leva – fantastic and cheap mussels + Belgian fries (did you know there’s a “difference”? In France, at least, “French Fries / frites” are skinny while Belgian fries are fatter). $8.50 for the a generous portion of plump mussels and $1.50 for a little half glass of rose. I was happy as a clam.
- Chez Palmyre – Best value in Nice. Wow. This $18 three-course meal was no joke, and it’s no wonder you NEED a reservation to get in. I started with the goat-cheese stuffed tomato. AMAZING. Then the veal paupiette – “Provence Style”. ALSO AMAZING. And finished with the pear clafoutis, which is a cake made with a dense batter. A TRIFECTA OF AMAZING.
- Les Amoureaux – A pizza place, yes, but worth the hype. Not only are the pizzas cute, but they are delicious. I will never have a pizza like this again in my life, lest I come back to Nice. I was alone but if you can try to go with at least two people so you can try at least two pizzas! I was really stuck between this one and the traditional one with the mozzarella and tomato sauce. The dough steals the show, it’s just perfect. Thin but chewy, yeasty, rich and delicious. Probably not good for leftovers.
- Chez Pipo – Socca and salad. What is socca? A panfried crepe made from chickpea flour. Keep that in mind in relation to how hungry you are (ie: order the large one if you’re hungry). Nice people, nice place, cheap lunch. I had to have an early dinner as I got hungry again after about two hours.
- Banthai – This is not pad thai. This was fried rice. I ordered pad thai. Are their pad thai and fried rice the same? Maybe. Did it taste good? Sure, it was a little too oily. Was it spicy? Not at all. Was it overpriced? Yes. Save the Thai for somewhere besides Nice.
- Le Gout – The: not on the Nice list because it’s in Antibes. A cute little coffee/tea shop with healthy salad offerings at decent prices. Here I Had a Greek salad and a cup of orange tea while getting to 50% in Blue Mind.
Dishes traditional to Provence / Cote d’Azur region:
- Bouillabaisse – A fish stew which originated in the seaside city of Marseilles. Although for some reason bouillabaisse is now usually expensive and considered a delicacy, this stew traditionally was made by fisherman from scraps that they were unable to sell at market or to restaurants. Stew vegetables like tomatoes, celerly, leeks, onions and potatoes are added to the simmering broth to create the stew. Herbs and spices local to Provence make bouillabaisse different from other fish soups. If there is any meal healthier than protein-rich seafood, fresh vegetables and herbs in a broth made from seafood and veggies, I’m not sure what it is. Traditionally served with olive oil and grilled, crusty bread.
- Socca (see Chez Pipo above)– A crepe made from chickpea flour. Chickpeas are a good source of protein and fiber. This simple crepe is usually made in the oven but sometimes will be made in a cast iron pan, which means the addition of oil. A gluten-free treat for everyone!
- Pot au Feu – A stew made with beef or veal, bones (optional) and stew vegetables, all left to simmer together with herbs and broth in a pot until ready to serve!
- La Galette (aka “King Cake”) – This January tradition is tied to all of France. Not healthy, but fun, and the cakes are pretty, too! Here’s the scoop: The tradition is set in place to “Find the King” at the beginning of each New Year, and to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise men. On January 6th, families gather pour tirer les rois, to find the kings. The traditional Galette is cut so that there is one slice per person sitting at the table, plus one (symbolic for the first poor person passing by). The youngest, “most innocent”, person is tasked to go underneath the table and announce who receives the next slice of cake. One lucky cake-eater in attendance will find the charm, la fève, hidden in their slice. This person will become “the king” for the day. French bakeries sell the Galette with a paper crown which the “king” is supposed to wear for the rest of the day. Even though this tradition is linked to January 6th, Galette are sold for the duration of the month.
- Richard Olney, Julia Child, and MFK Fischer are well-known curators of Provence style cuisine. Be sure to check out their cookbooks and memoirs if you’re interested in American-in-Provence subject matter.
Highlights of Nice (for me):
Eze – What a treat! I’m so glad I learned about this cute medieval town. If you fancy a good hike, take the train to Eze sur Mer and ascend into the village via Nietzsche’s Footpath. It’ll get your heart rate up and took my ~45min (but I stopped to take pictures, remove my coat, gaze at the ocean, etc). Wear athletic shoes or hiking books. I took it up and down. Definitely check out the garden at the top, it was $4 in the off season. Great views, an area for reflection, a collection of statues with good quotes. Most stuff was closed in the village when I was there due it being January. I imagine it’s much busier in the “on” months.
Antibes – Cute little place, lots of shopping. Have lunch or a coffee break at Le Gout – The. Also visit the Picasso Museum. Not expensive and a nice collection of his work plus work from a few other artists, and great views of the ocean and the beach.
Marche de Flowers – I’ve visited markets in every town I’ve gone to and this one is fine. I found the flowers to be just fine, but there weren’t as many stands as I was expecting. I was also visiting in off-season. There were a few vendors selling Macaroon-shaped soaps which were very cute and I found the herbs and spices vendors to be enticing as well. The way they set up is beautiful. A good place to buy bags of lavender, or lavender scented things but the same things might be cheaper if you meander through the streets of the downtown. Just a thought.
Castle hill – nice views, probably a great place to picnic with the right weather. Not as strenuous as it looks or seems like it might be. Only spent a little less than 2 hours going up, exploring and coming back down. On the walk over to Castle Hill there is a sundial in which you can cast your shadow to see the time!