Fragrance, flowers and fountains in Nice

Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens
Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens

“Though the light is intense, it’s also soft and tender.” -- Henri Matisse, the artist, who made his home in Nice.

The fifth largest city in France, Nice can be intense. But it is spring, the light is NOT glaring here in the south of France. It is a combination of clouds and sun with no real humidity and enough cloud cover to prevent the sun from being too hot. So what I am saying is … it is just perfect. We are comfortable on Saturday – our full day in Nice -- from beginning to end.

A note about breakfast, since many are curious about the food on these tours: As with most Go Ahead tours, breakfast comes with the package, and is provided by the hotel. In Nice, we are all at NH Hotel. Breakfast is not too far off from what we are used to in the U.S.; cereal, juice, eggs (cooked a little runny or hard boiled), bacon, croissants (it IS France!), and coffee – the espresso kind that comes out of a loud gasping machine. The cappuccino machine is do-it-yourself, and there are 12 choices! There are also hard rolls with slices of cheese and very thin meat. Many make a sandwich and stow it in their bag for a snack later.

We jump on the bus early and wind our way into the hills near Nice, to a town called Eze – where there is hugely successful frangrance factory call Fragonard. Here we learn that for every one kilo of perfume made it takes 3000 kilos of flowers. (So I know I will now be a little less outraged the next time you have to stock up at the Lancome counter at the mall.)

As we head to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, our guide JJ stops at all the best places for pictures. It is unbelievably beautiful here with the palm trees, bright flowers, and salmon colored houses covering the hillsides above the sea. There are grand homes here with large gardens, and we tour one -- Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. The villa has nine gardens – and on the day we visit, a rose and flower show. Roses are everywhere and just when we are about to say, “Enough with the flowers already!” the many fountains play music and dance in time. This happens every 20 minutes.

Go Ahead likes to schedule some free time, and for me and my 11 year old daughter Lucia – that means a trek to find a beach where we can put our feet in the Mediterranean, with two of our fellow travelers. It is a dramatic late afternoon with the sun partially blocked by a large mass of dark clouds that never quite reaches Nice. As the sun sets, the sea changes colors many times, all of them blue.

We find dinner on our own at a newer place on the central square with many seafood dishes and pasta on the menu -- and a statue of Poseidon looming not 50 yards away. The old and new are intertwined here. The buildings of Old Nice surround the most amazing modern playground structures I have ever seen – shaped like pirate ships and dinosaurs. At 8:30 p.m. it is full of families. A misty fountain provides entertainment for all who pass by – dancing and changing in the twilight. No music this time, but Nice does not disappoint.