Visiting Nice on the Côte d’Azur in France With a Small Dog – Part III
Welcome to part III of my Nice review! Although each post on Nice can stand on its own, I recommend reading Parts I and II either before or after reading this post. The three posts together will give you a much clearer picture of this totally fantastic, pet friendly city.
If you love to walk and your dog does as well – Wait, who am I kidding? What dog doesn’t like a good walk?! – then I recommend the jaunt up Nice’s Castle Hill. It’s an outdoor, super pet friendly activity. It’s also easy to find. The hill juts up and stands out from the otherwise relatively flat area that is Nice.
But contain your expectations because there is no real castle on the hill. It is still worth going up the hill but I don’t want you to be disappointed or accuse me of false advertising or anything! *tail wag*
So if there is no castle, why is it called Castle Hill? Well, there once was a castle! Yep! It was there until about the 17th century or so, then King Louis XIV had it dismantled. I’m not sure why he did it, but he did, the meanie. The castle was later re-established in the 1830s by King Charles-Felix of Savoy. He’s the man who realized that the amazing views from the hill should be exploited. He’s the one who had the idea to put a big park with an artificial waterfall on that hill’s plateau. The park was meant to attract tourists (and it does), but the park is moreover, a cool haven for the locals. Shade and secluded footpaths create a stunning place for people and theirs pet to visit on those very hot summer days. So, although intended for the aristocratic crowd, the park really ended up being for the people.
Now you are asking yourself, how do you get all the way up there? Right? Well, you have choices, Dear Reader, choices!
You can drive. There is a small car park at the top of the hill. But somehow this seems like cheating.
Or, you can take the elevator. The lovely people of Nice understand that sometimes, be it for health reasons or a lack of time, you need to have a quicker and less exerting way up and down the hill. Bless.
Or, you can travel up on le petit train! This little white tourist train will pick you up at the bottom (near the Promenade des Anglais) and drive you up to the top of the hill, even making a few stops along the way for photos! The train will take you back down again, too. And it’s pet friendly!
Or, you can suck it up and hike up! That’s what we did. What? You’re not surprised? Ah, you are coming to know us too well, Dear Reader! Well, if you hike up, you can make the trek on either side of the hill: on the Promenade des Anglais side – the west side of the hill (we went up that way) – or on the Old City side – the east side of the hill (we went down that way). You are looking at climbing at least 300 steps and walking some pathways up and then down but the trek is so worth your effort. Do take water for yourself and your canine friend. I also had a cooling vest with me that came in very handy as I started overheating.
Also remember to take your camera with you. You will be kicking yourself if you don’t! As we walked up to the top of Castle Hill, we stopped more than once to take photos.
A Tip! If you want to take a panoramic view of westerly viewpoints – which will give you that postcard perfect shot overlooking the Promenade des Anglais, Old Nice, the Baie des Anges, the Cap d’Antibes, the Esterel mountains, the airport, and the Southern Alps in the distance – plan to go up Castle Hill in the morning. By around 11:00 a.m., if not sooner, the sun will be shining right into your lens, ruining the clarity of your photo. Alternatively, go later and hang out for a sunset shot. The afternoon provides you with a picturesque easterly view of the Cape de Nice, Port Lympia, and the Mediterranean. Whether early or late in the day, you will get great photos, but if you have a specific shot in mind, I wanted to give you that tidbit of information. You’re welcome!
Something the bipeds pointed out and I want to share is that the signage on the paths and up on top of the hill is lacking. Luckily, it’s hard to get lost going either up or down. Be patient and feel free to take little side paths. Even if they are dead ends, you will likely stumble on something lovely.
You are in for a treat once you reach the plateau at the top of the hill. Not only are the views spectacular, but the area is also lovely with large grassy spaces, some archaeological digs, and the ruins of the castle. Nothing fancy pants but fun all the same. There is also a children’s play area (not pet friendly) and a small snack bar!
You’ll also notice plenty of references to ancient Greece. I liked the mosaic pathway with scenes from the Odyssey and the fountain on the eastern side of the plateau, dedicated to the god Pan. You might be scratching your head, wondering why there are references to ancient Greece in Nice. Well, here’s the thing: the Greeks founded Nice around 350BC and named it Nikaia after the Greek goddess of victory. Now that you know this, it all makes sense, right? Even the city and port names!
With all that hiking up, and the long stroll and photo taking, we were in need of a sit for a little bit. Luckily, there is a café. It’s nothing fancy – just simple drinks and commercial ice cream – but it’s still absolutely lovely. Dad had a coffee, Mom had some mineral water, and our hosts had some Magnum ice creams. Everyone seemed happy, but I would not recommend going to the café for a full meal. It’s more a snack kind of spot. Oh, and before I forget, you have to order something to use the café’s washroom. But don’t fret, Dear Reader, there are also public washrooms on the plateau (free).
After we cooled off and caught our breath, we ventured to the beautiful waterfall that we found at the top of another un-signposted staircase at the right of the path leading around the western side of the hill. The fact that the waterfall is man-made doesn’t take away from its beauty. It’s been around since the 1830s and so in its own way, it is now a work of art and antique. While we were there, a bride and groom and their entire wedding party arrived for photos. What a lovely spot for it.
We walked down the opposite side we had taken on our climb up. By then, the sun was slowly setting and the shady walk was most pleasant. We found ourselves back near the old town and then near the port where our hosts have their lovely place.
We were all really hungry by then so decided to find a perfect spot for dinner. Our host happened to know about a little pizza place that is France’s 4th-best pizza place! He warned us that the pizzeria is very small, simple, and always overflowing with people. We decided to try our luck seeing it was a little earlier than the locals normally eat dinner. We thought we might get lucky without a reservation, and we did. We got the last table!
I was allowed in the pizzeria – no problem at all, not even an eyelash batted. And, oh, Dear Reader, the pizza was wonderful! If you have a chance, grab a simple pizza at Les Amoureux. Do! You can also order to go, if you aren’t able to sit and pause. A husband and wife team runs the pizzeria. We asked them the secret to their success and their answer was delightful: don’t expand! Everything is still made from scratch, even the crust. No frozen products for them. The toppings are fetched every day from the farmers market. Their success is built on a lack of greed and a love of good ingredients. It’s about the flavour, not the profit. I loved them right away.
The perfect end to a perfect day!
In Review: If you are looking for a great view of Nice, Castle Hill should be high on your list. The top of the hill is worth the mildly difficult climb (about 300 stairs) as it affords you views of the city to the east and the harbor to the west. A lovely place to take food and have a picnic, or to just stand and look out. I was allowed everywhere and anywhere and even off leash most of the time. I bumped into many other dogs of all sizes. Even where there are “no dogs” signs, it seemed that no one, not a soul, really believed that sign. And I was glad for it.