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.
I never considered moving to Paris. I have lived in New York for the last 50 years and I wanted to get away from the metropolis. I was seeking a more laid-back lifestyle. At 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 not warm enough for me. 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. Visiting in March, I found it to be authentically French, a great walking town and tempting. But it is a small town (population 75,000). And after a month I wanted somewhere a bit busier.
I went to the even smaller Sanary-sur-mer, (population 17,000) a postcard-perfect seafront town, in the Var region between Toulon and Marseille. I fell in love with it. As one of only three Americans in town, I was an object of some curiosity and quickly made a circle of friends. My social life was active, including private visits to some of the Bandol estates, but still I wanted something busier.
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 for me, 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. Bordeaux seemed perfect to me. I came back the following February. It was cold and wet.
Year 4 I decided to 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 is the real thing. 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 easily accepted. An international city where the lingua franca is as much English or Italian as French. Easy public transportation. The second largest 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.
Evelyn Ehrlich lives happily in Nice with her dog.