Cycling has allowed me to discover many new places around the world however finding my next destination is always a challenge. There are many factors to consider such as weather, price, transportation of my bike, etc. so I have to choose carefully. After much research and a lot of help from Cycle Côte d’Azur I decided to head for Nice and spend 7 days cycling in the Alps in early October 2013. I did not regret my decision; they were some of the most beautiful rides I have ever done and the surrounding area also provided a lot to see such as Old Nice, Cannes, Monaco and the Alp villages. Not only did I enjoy cycling some of the most epic rides in the world, I also got to explore amazing cities. Oh yeah…and I got engaged in Monaco!
Exploring the Côte d’Azur
My two objectives for travelling to the Côte d’Azur were to visit some of the cities in the area and go cycling. When I first started to plan my trip, I was meant to go solo however, when my boyfriend saw where I was going, he wanted in as well! Since all my rides left from Nice, I decided to stay there and take the train or rent a car to get to other destinations. I also wanted to avoid staying in a hotel so I could cook meals and store my bike so I went on Airbnb and found the most adorable apartment in downtown Nice. It was perfect and only five minutes walk from Old Nice, the beach, and the train station. I had never used Airbnb so I was a little nervous but everything worked out perfectly and I would recommend it for anyone staying in a city for an extended period of time. I was also really happy that my boyfriend came so that I had a companion on my rest days to visit and share my cycling adventures with. As it turns out, he was also planning a big surprise for me…more on that later!
Nice was where we spent most of our time and was also the starting point of all my rides. The entire city is beautiful with its colourful architecture, promenades, amazing restaurants and nightlife. There are hidden alleys with cafes to explore and beautiful drives into the Côte d’Azur mountains for spectacular views of the sea. Some of the places we explored were Old Nice, Promenades des Anglais, Parc du Château and the Hôtel Negresco. There is so much to see and activities that will please all. For the foodies, I would recommend heading to the cours Saleya where you will find colourful markets with local produce and flowers. Pick up some supplies for a picnic on the beach or a stroll in the Parc du Château for breathtaking views of the city. There is even a restaurant in Old Nice that serves food from Quebec including Poutine! For the shoppers, spend a day discovering the little shops in Old Nice or head to the Nice Etoile shopping mall. For those who love the outdoors, you can rent a bike or rollerblades and cruise along the Promenades des Anglais or go cycling or mountain biking in the nearby Alps. For those who love art, there is a wide selection of museums, beautiful statues and architecture in the city. The nightlife is very cool and you have go to the Hôtel Negresco for a drink or at least walk around the hotel to enjoy the eclectic art. Although we spent a week in Nice, I feel there is still much to explore and would definitely return to the Côte d’Azur.
Getting to Cannes from Nice is very easy and inexpensive by train. We left early morning and came back on the last train the same night. Of course, there is a lot to explore in Cannes as well so it can be worth it to spend a few days there however the hotels can be very expensive and difficult to reserve as there are festivals going on all the time. Although Nice has its high-end boutiques and restaurants, I found Cannes was even more upscale. We spent the day in the city window shopping and eating delicious macarons from Ladurée! Again the architecture was amazing and fit perfectly with the Côte d’Azur sea-side city…everything is so colourful. If you are going for a day, I would recommend simply walking around and see what you discover. Just being in Cannes is epic and you will feel like a movie star for a day!
I was more excited to visit Monaco than any other city during our vacation in the Cote d’Azur! The race track , the casino, the royalty…all of it was so exciting! It was even more exciting when Jonathan proposed to me at the Musee Oceanographique de Monaco…yep, pretty cool! He had everything planned out and I had no idea. We decided at the start of our trip that we wanted to go to Monaco in style so we rented a convertible and headed out for the day. We drove through the Alp villages to get there and took our time. Now that I think back on that day, Jonathan must have been so nervous…poor guy. All he wanted to do was get it over with and I was insisting on driving through the mountains and villages haha! Anyway, we drove on part of the race track, visited the Palais du Prince and walked around the Jardin Exotique and finally went to the Musee Oceanographique. Although I do not like zoos or aquariums (I don’t like to see anything in captivity), this museum was very instructional and beautiful. As we descended to the lower level of the museum to see the aquarium, Jonathan suddenly disappeared into the bathroom and reemerged with his suit on. I should have guessed at that point what was happening but I just assumed he was changing for dinner. We headed to the massive shark tank and as soon as the room was clear, he got down on one knee and proposed. I was speechless but still managed to say yes through my tears. It was such an epic moment. He totally nailed it and I will never forget that day! After that we headed out for dinner then to the Casino where we played the Ghost Buster slot machines and drank champagne. It was a night to remember!
Nice is surrounded by mountains and there are many little Alp villages to explore. For this I would recommend renting a car or you can explore them by bike as well! Some of the places we saw were the Three Corniches which are a series of coastal roads that hug the cliffs between Nice and Menton. They provide spectacular vues of the sea and are really fun to drive. We drove from Nice to Menton via this route stopping in the little villages along the way. A must see is definitely the medieval village of Eze however there are many other medieval villages to explore in the Alps. We took the car and had a goal to drive to Monaco and Menton and just stopped whenever we saw something we wanted to visit. Unfortunately we did not write down all the Alp villages we visited but I can guarantee they are all epic!
Cycling around the Côte d’Azur
The Côte d’Azur is a cyclist’s dream and thanks to Cycle Côte d’Azur I had an amazing time exploring the region on my bike. The weather in October was unreliable and I did not get as many rides in as I would have liked however I was not disappointed. They provided me with maps and a place to set-up my bike and if I wanted, they also offered guided tours. I decided to ride alone simply because I wanted the flexibility to stop where I wanted and to change my course depending on how I felt that day. Some of my epic rides included the Col de la Madone, Eze, Menton, Monaco, Levens, and finally the ride through the Gorges du Esteron. Some of these I combined while others were simply round trips. My two favourite rides were the Col de la Madone and Gorges du Esteron. They were each unique and challenging in their own way. Col de la Madone was a steady climb to the summit and followed an old beat-up road that was quite steep. Gorges du Esteron was secluded and I was alone on the road for most of the ride. I had a scare on this ride and thought I would not make it back at some point. As I was riding up, there were signs advertising a restaurant at one of the summits so rather than stop for water and food at another village on the way, I thought I would get food at this other place. Well, as luck would have it, that restaurant was closed on Tuesdays, the exact day I was riding. I could not believe it and for a moment I panicked. This forced me to turn back as I had no water or food left and did not want to risk continuing. Lesson learned…always stop for water when you can! Both offered spectacular views and a great challenge. You can easily spend a lifetime exploring the Alps on bike and this was definitely a step up in my cycling adventures.