Story of a New Yorker who chose to live in Nice
"Nice might seem like an obvious place to settle if one is planning to move to France. After all, the Cote d’Azur is the second most touristed spot in France, after Paris. But it wasn’t even on my list when I decided to fulfill my lifelong dream to live in France.
A friend, a fellow American expat who lives in Paris, told me the Riviera was tacky. Too many tourists. No authenticity. He did admit that Antibes was a pleasant town, but counseled me against Nice or Cannes.
I never considered moving to Paris. I lived in New York for 50 years and I wanted to get away from the metropolis. I was seeking a more laid-back lifestyle. At age 64, newly retired and financially comfortable, I decided to spend 3-4 months each year in a different part of France to decide which area most suited me.
My first scouting trip took me to Brittany and Normandy. I spent a month in each. Beautiful places, but too much rain and cold weather, even in May and June. Also, I couldn’t imagine living in a region that produced no wine. I crossed them off my list.
The second year I went South. First a month in Antibes. And my friend was right. Visiting in March, I found it to be authentically French, a great walking town and quite tempting. But it is a small town (population 75,000). On a Sunday afternoon, I checked the local movie schedule only to discover that the cinemas in Antibes had no afternoon showings. And after a month I was bored witless.
From Antibes I went to the even smaller Sanary-sur-mer, (population 13,000) another postcard-perfect seafront town, this time in the Var region between Toulon and Marseille. I fell in love with it. As one of only 3 Americans in town, I was an object of some curiosity and quickly made a circle of friends. My active social life, including private visits to some of the Bandol estates, blinded me to its limitations for a woman who has lived her entire life in major metropolises. I moved on.
The following year I discovered Southwest France. First St. Jean de Luz, a delightful beach resort in the pays Basque close to the Spanish border. One of the nicest beaches I’ve seen anywhere, great food, a welcoming environment. But, in the end, too small, even with Biarritz and the very pretty city of Bayonne nearby.
On to Bordeaux, where I spent the month of July on the bassin d’Arcachon, and August in the nearby suburb of Bouliac. Having made a very good friend in Gujan-Mestras on the Arcachon peninsula, Bordeaux seemed perfect to me. I came back the following February. It was cold and wet. Plus, knowledgeable friends told me that Bordeaux was a very closed off social scene. Like many French cities (including Lyon and Toulouse, I've been told) if you haven’t lived there for at least 3 generations, you are an outsider and will find it difficult be make intimate friends. .
Year 4 I decided to ignore my Parisian friend’s advice and check out Nice, which I knew a little from my stay in Antibes and where I had an old friend from New York. And finally the pieces all fell into place. I fell in love for good.
I came back 3 years in a row, just to make sure. But this was the real thing. What my Parisian friend didn’t know was that Nice (the 5th or 6th largest city in France, depending on whether you count the metro area) has everything I wanted. A lively cultural life. A climate that never gets below freezing. And more. Almost everyone in Nice—including the French—come from somewhere else, so outsiders are more easily accepted. An international city where the lingua franca is as much English or Italian as French. Easy public transportation. The second largest French airport after Paris with direct flights to everywhere, including New York. A city as much Italian as French and only 40 minutes from Italy. And the laid-back lifestyle I craved. Sort of a southern California lifestyle on the Mediterranean. I am, finally, home."