Thursday, December 2, 2010

Peace in Nice

Last stop on the 2010 Med Tour:  Villefranche, France.

My coffee-at-sunrise habit firmly entrenched, I watched a brilliant sunrise from my balcony, then shot this photo as the ship pulled into Villefranche, a beautiful little town located halfway between Nice, France, and Monaco:

As soon as we were off the ship, we bypassed the cafes (which were beautiful, but quickly becoming crowded with tourists streaming off the ship) and walked up the hill to catch the morning bus to Nice.  It only took twenty minutes or so to get into Nice, and the bus ride along the coast was gorgeous.  From the bus station in Nice, it was a leisurely walk through a park to the morning market, where we perused antiques before settling down to breakfast.  I absolutely loved the places we found along this alleyway, away from the crowds, where the only sounds were the grinding of coffee beans, the soft swoosh of pastry being shuffled from baking sheets onto waiting plates, and quiet French being spoken:

After breakfast, we wandered to the beach, then back through town to pop our heads into a couple of Nice's cathedrals before going back to the bus station for the quick ride to the village of Eze.  Eze le Village is a medieval town perched high over the Mediterranean, offering views from Italy to Nice on a clear day (which is what we were fortunate enough to have!)  From the bus stop, we walked through an outdoor market and peeked at a few vegetable stands, then at this display of spices, before making the long climb uphill to see the views.

Eze is a rabbit warren of alleyways, with quaint shops, inns, and restaurants tucked around every corner.  Doesn't this look like a fantastic place to explore?

It's a hike to the top, but the view is worth it.  Along the way, we guessed the value of the real estate not only due to the view and location, but because of the cars parked on the steep hillsides (if you click on the photo, it'll show a bigger image.  Hit your back button to return to the blog.)

And the water view:

After stopping at a tiny cliffside cafe for a drink, we decided we had enough time to head to Monaco for a late lunch and some sightseeing.  The bus ride from Eze (after we hiked back down, that is!) took less than half an hour.  Rather than take the bus all the way to the casino area, we hopped off just over the border, then walked downhill through a maze of apartment buildings and gardens.  The flowers hanging over the walkways were too pretty to resist.

I know that, as a tourist, one "should" see the casinos and the Grand Prix race course, but I preferred taking this route.  I visited Monaco once before, but it was pouring rain then and we were forced to stay indoors.  This time I wanted to see what Monaco has to offer outdoors, and to see the world in which most Monégasques live (hint: it's not in the casino.)  We stopped for pizza near the castle, and--surprise!--I truly think it was the best pizza I've had in my life.  (My husband ranked it at about #2 or #3...his #1 pizza place is in Sorrento, Italy.)  

We spent most of the afternoon walking, taking in the views of the waterfront and the million-dollar boats docked there before heading to the cathedral for a quick walk-through, and then to Monaco's famous aquarium.  While the aquarium is definitely THE place in Monaco for tourist crowds, the DH and I had just seen the documentary Oceans (VERY highly recommended!) and were in the mood to see some aquatic life.  (Note:  Prince Albert of Monaco was one of the sponsors of the film, and is also a huge supporter of Monaco's aquarium.)  The aquarium is breathtaking.  If you ever happen to be in Monaco (not that anyone "happens" to be in Monaco, but if you ever get there....) definitely visit its aquarium.

Afterward, we walked until we absolutely had to catch the bus back to Villefranche to make our ship's departure time.  But...I did manage to have one picture taken in Monaco.  (Proof that I really did go on this trip!)

We made it back to Villefranche with just enough time to spare to grab a final gelati from a cafe near the dock, which I think is the perfect way to wind up a Mediterranean vacation.

I wouldn't say the last day of the trip was my favorite location--I'd have to go with Corsica or Malta for that--but it was certainly the most relaxing.  No schedule, no Must Do List, no crowds, no rain.

Of course, the end of the vacation means a return to the writing schedule, but I'm fine with that.  Happier, in fact, for having left my desk for awhile to explore.

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