When my friend Brady Russell, the artist behind the webcomic “Eat the Babies!”, told me that he went to Nice and stayed in the best hostel in France, I was immediately intrigued.
Yes, that’s right Nice’s Villa Saint Exupéry Gardens (named for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who wrote Le Petit Prince) has won the HOSCAR (Hostelworld.com Customers Annual Ratings) award for the best hostel in France five times. Brady spent eight nights there, where he discovered his love of rocky beaches, boulangeries and intricate cobblestone walkways. Here, he tells us all about his week living la belle vie on the Cote d’Azur.
The Best Hostel in France: Even though it’s “The Best Hostel in France,” Villa Saint Exupéry Gardens has some serious pros and some serious cons. The hostel is fantastic as hostels go. They have everything you could want right there — minus a pool. They have comfortable rooms of all sizes and WiFi throughout, plus a big bank of computers anyone can use.
They have the least expensive bar in all of Nice (€2 beer), a great cook, really cool staff and a generally convivial atmosphere. It’s really easy to make friends with people at the Villa.
That said, it’s a long way from the center of Nice. I made the walk back more than once in the middle of the night, and it really makes going out on the town discouraging. It’s a very pricey cab ride back and while you can walk it (I did), most people wouldn’t want to. Plus, getting anywhere from the Villa takes forever. That said, it’s often so much fun at the Villa that you don’t really want to leave, but the whole point of travel is to get out and have a look around, so when you hang around the Villa too much you feel like you are wasting time.
I would say it’s ideal for the person on a long trip abroad who wants to take a day off and stay in here and there. For a shorter trip like mine, you might get more exploring done if you stay in downtown Nice. As a guy in my mid-30s, I also definitely felt like I was a bit old to be hanging around there. If I were any older, I’d feel pretty out of place.
Rocky Beaches Rock: Rocky beaches are great. I could go the rest of my life and never ever go to a sandy beach again. Not only does sand get everywhere and leave you totally uncomfortable and dirty, but it mucks up the water. No doubt the Cote d’Azur has its remarkable color, in part, because the waves aren’t lapping up sediment every time they hit the shore. The one downside of rocky beaches is that they do sort of hurt your feet, but it didn’t bother me nearly so much as it bothered most people. I also found the rocks didn’t get as hot as sand and they almost massaged your back through the beach mat.
Favorite Attraction: Foundation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence is a remarkable space in and of itself. With or without the art, it would be a remarkable building. It works, really, much like a good video game. Not that you are fighting aliens or solving a puzzle, but you do find that you are exploring the space of the museum as much as you are looking for art. Its architect liked to tuck hallways in surprising spots or set up turns so that what you found around them would be surprising and remarkable.
Boulangerie Bonanza: My favorite thing about eating in France is the general boulangerie culture. I could seriously be happy forever eating nothing but paninis and quiches. I especially sought boulangeries that made their quiches as small individual pies, rather than making larger pies and serving slices. Perhaps that’s just me being an American raised on the personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut, but I liked having a whole round pie the size of my hand. I couldn’t point you to any one boulangerie in particular, though.
Tram Ticket Tips: Buy three or four tram tickets at a time or you’ll miss a tram here and there because you can’t buy the tickets fast enough. It’s not quite simple enough to do it quick. As long as you don’t lose your ticket, you’ll be okay. You can even accidentally go swimming in the ocean with your tram tickets. Once they dry out, they will work fine. At least, mine did.
Check out “Eat the Babies!” — Brady’s webcomic about a television, a folk singer and an economist. Updates are Tuesdays & Fridays.