Travel memoirist Bill Bryson once wrote: “We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.” And for many of us who celebrate the festive season by exchanging gifts, the shopping mall becomes a second home at this time of year.
But for us discerning travelers who would rather save our money for an Executive-first class ticket than buy one another something that will end up at the Salvation Army thrift shop in six months, we take a slightly different approach. The fact that we rarely spend Christmas at home (as discussed earlier in reference to a Christmas cruise!) does give us a bit of a distraction.
Leaving the house in the good hands of our house-sitter, we take very little in the way of gifts with us: we’ll do our shopping when we are on the ground in the south of France, and that shopping will be minimal. It’s the experience of shopping in Nice that we really like!
Nice is the closest thing to a ‘city’ that is within a reasonable taxi drive of where our son works in Monaco. About 30 minutes by cab from Monte Carlo, Nice has a population of fewer than 400,000 making it large enough to have shops, services and hotels in abundance, and small enough to be happily walkable. Add on to that its charming old quarter (Vieux Nice), its Christmas market and its fabulous festive decorations, and you end up with an experience that puts you in the Christmas spirit like nothing else can.
When we arrive in Nice, we’ll check into the hotel Palais de la mediteranée on the Promenade des Anglais that stretches about six kilometers along the beachfront. Then we’ll spend a day wandering the shopping streets and lunching at a pizzeria near the market. We’ll watch the Nice residents stroll on the boardwalk (it’s actually paved) and we’ll visit the local Galleries Lafayette, the famed department store. It’s not quite like its Parisian sibling, but it has three floors of ‘stuff’ that isn’t readily available in North America.
Then we’ll do some strolling of our own and watch the local residents pick up their Christmas trees from the lot on the waterfront, and wander among the snow-covered trees all around the place. Does it snow in the south of France at Christmas, you ask incredulously? No, it actually doesn’t. The snow is fake; those of us who reside in more northern climes always find it hilarious how snow seems to be worshipped as the very essence of Christmas. It’s clear no one along the French Riviera has ever had to spend a morning shoveling to get a car out of the garage.
After we pick up one present for each other and a few for the son, we’ll leave Nice behind us to head to Monte Carlo and a ballet premiere. When we get back, no doubt we’ll have more stories to tell!