Growing up with an academic father who specialised in French history meant that every Summer saw us holidaying in the south of France. His research normally took us to the wine producing Dordogne area surrounding Bordeaux where we would stay in a picturesque gite and visit the many Chateaus and local places of interest.
I have idyllic memories of the South of France and recently decided to revisit it. This time I was headed for the French Riviera with a view to sunbathing on the pristine beaches of the cote d’azure. That said, I couldn’t resist a walk up to the summit of La Colline du Chateau, or Castle Hill if you prefer to check out the supposedly spectacular views and see a little history. Maybe a little of my old man’s interest in culture has filtered down to me after all.
Nice is the 5th largest city in France, but retains lots of small town charm. This may come from the cities great heritage. It is one of the oldest known human settlements in Europe and as a permanent site dates back to around 350BC when it was founded as Nikaia, named after the Greek God of victory – Nike. This original town is thought to have been built on the site of La Colline du Chateau, so it is certainly a spot with some solid historic pedigree.
The hill with no castle
I was surprised by one thing when I visited La Colline. The nearer I got to the summit the more apparent it became that there is, in fact, no Chateau. Louis XIV dismantled the castle in 1706 and in the late 19th century the whole area was turned into a park, boasting a diverse array of attractions. There are several different ways to ascend La Colline. If you’re feeling like taking it easy there is a lift at the end of Rue des Ponchettes which will get you up to the beginning of the Park for under 2 euros. Perhaps more picturesque, although a little more expensive at around the 7 euro mark, is a mini-train leaving from Promenade des Anglais which goes on a tour of the site lasting around 45 minutes. Personally I chose to walk up the 213 stairs that take you on a winding journey up the hillside. There are some great photo opportunities along the way so don’t forget your camera.
The walk begins on the Promenade des Anglais side of the hill just next to the Hotel Suisse. The views coming up this way are truly breathtaking, especially at sunset as the sun bleeds into a turqouise sea across the beautiful Baie des Anges. It’s an absolute classic. Be careful though – the park closes soon after sunset. Further up there is an impressive man-made waterfall and there are some nice views over to the port side of the city. The park has an abundance of lovely shaded spots perfect for a picnic on a warm Summers day and there are lots of benches and tables dotted around the park ready to accommodate you. There is also a nice cafe at the top. The summit provides more panoramic views and has a good museum housed in a stunning Romanesque villa. The whole park sprawls gracefully over a decent sized area and is full of interesting little details such as mosaics detailing the sites history and ruins of the original Chateau and its chapel nestling among perfectly kept lawns. I strongly recommend taking a whole afternoon to fully explore La Colline du Chateau.
Out and about in Nice
At the bottom of Colline du Chateau on the port side is the old town of Nice, an excellent area for restaurants. Here I discovered a superb little place called La Barque Blue. As you would hope they have a large selection of fresh seafood with daily specials that are bound to have you coming back for more. Personal menu favourites include “Spaghetti aux fruits de mer” and “farfalle a la creme de foie gras et huille de truffle”. This is the perfect place to sit and watch the ships meandering in and out of the harbour and I found staff to be attentive and friendly on every occasion I visited.
Whilst visiting Nice you’ll discover an astounding variety of culture. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Chagall Museum and the Matisse Museum are all great places to spend a quiet afternoon. The best shopping is around the Rue Paradis but the Nice Etoile mall halfway up Avenue Jean Medecin is also good. I found it a great city to wander round and get lost in, and when you grow tired of the hustle and bustle, why not just head South for the beach where Sun, Sea and deckchairs abound. What more could you want except, perhaps an ice-cold beer and a Chateau to visit?
If you are interested in the more historic side to France there are is a wealth of places to visit. Here are a few favourites, but also check out the UNESCO list of around 30 sites if you want to find something in the area you are holidaying.
Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay – a gothic style Benedictine abbey perched on a rocky islet exposed to powerful tides from Brittany and Normandy. The Benedictine abbey is dedicated to archangel st. Michael. The abbey was built between the 11th and 16th centuries.
Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes – the Loire Valley is a landscape of great beauty with historic towns, villages, monuments and cultivated lands. The cultural landscape of the Loire Valley illustrates the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.
Bordeaux, Port of the Moon – a port and historic city in south west France, Bordeaux has more protected buildings than any other French city, except Paris.
Historic Centre of Avignon – Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge. This city in the south of France was the seat of the papalcy in the 14th century. Palais des Papes is an austere looking fortress, lavishly decorated. The palace dominates the city. The Papal Palace is surrounded by ramparts and the remains of a 12th century bridge.