Ken Hoffman shares the joy of flying to the French Riviera



I’m taking a travel vacation for the first time in three years (two COVID stops, one I was having my x-rays touched up). It is quite long.

I am vaccinated, I have my Health Pass, a pack of masks, a liter of disinfectant hand gel, a pocket of euros and I am leaving for Nice and the Côte d’Azur.

In four hours. The airline told me to be at Bush Intercontinental at 11:45 am for my 3:45 pm flight. I’m here on time. Terminal D is a ghost town. The doors are empty, not a soul around.

I have to see Dr Rick.

Houston is my favorite place to live. But my favorite place to visit… is Nice, France. I can not wait to return to.

Nice, pronounced “niece”, is the unofficial capital of the Côte d’Azur. It is a large city, almost a million inhabitants, right by the Mediterranean Sea. The weather is great, warm and comfortable all year round, the people are a bit too beautiful for my self-esteem, and the food is the best. Nice was once part of Italy so there are pizza and lasagna everywhere.

I start each morning with two almond croissants and a Coca-Cola Light. We don’t say Diet Coke there. I have been told that “diet” is an ugly word in France when it comes to food or drink. Diet food means you’re sick or weird or something like that.

I love hanging out in Vieux Nice, the old town, which was built in the 1200s so that the cobblestone streets are narrow, barely wide enough for the horses to maneuver side by side. The alleys are teeming with cafes and shops, interrupted by occasional public plazas with restaurants where people congregate in the evenings.

Fenocchio is a huge outdoor gelato stand with 60 flavors, including bizarre scoops like vanilla and pink pepper or chewing gum. Ordering ice cream in Nice is not the time to play. I stick with the “two scoops” (scoops) of “the most chocolatey ice cream you have”. They understand me. You could patch up the potholes with this thing.

Cours Saleya, the main square in Old Nice is a flower and farmers’ market every morning, turning into a row of international cuisine restaurants in the evening. The seafood is fresh. You can hear the Mediterranean waves lapping on the pebble beach along the Promenade des Anglais. There is no Long John Silver.

Everyone has a better “last meal”. Mine is the Baked Rigatoni with Sausage at La Voglia in Old Nice. They serve it in a round cast iron skillet large enough for a family. Or me on an Italian kitchen bender.

The signature local sandwich is called Pan Bagnat: fresh tomatoes, tuna in olive oil, peppers, cucumbers and anchovies on a large round crispy roll. I don’t like tuna sandwiches, I will have a hit if someone slips me an anchovy and I try to reduce the bread. But I love a Pan Bagnat for lunch on the Promenade.

Nice is a leisurely drive to Spain heading west and only 20 minutes from Italy heading east. Can you drive half a day from Houston and… another country? Heck, you’re still in Texas. Small artist towns like Eze and St. Paul de Vence lie in the hills above Nice. I do day trips to the Italian Riviera and fishing villages like Portofino and Sanremo.

France is cracking down on COVID, but allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors without any quarantine restrictions. Don’t forget to bring your vaccination record. I requested a French Health Pass in order to board a domestic flight connecting Paris-Nice. Some restaurants, bars, sporting events and tours check the Health Pass. It’s a $ 180 fine if you are caught not wearing a mask on public transportation.

October-November is a good time to visit the Côte d’Azur. I had a 4 star hotel on Boulevard Victor Hugo, one of the most beautiful streets in the world, for $ 80 a night including breakfast, which I avoid as I focus on authentic almond croissants in a local bakery. My bff ain’t a guy named Will Power for nothing. I travel inexpensively so I can travel a lot.

I will echo the advice that (Honorary) Dr Jimmy Buffett gave to students during his keynote address at the University of Miami: “Go see the world. The planet has never been so connected. The prices are reasonable, you can find great deals in hotels, and the food from around the world is to die for.

When I see a cheap plane ticket, I leave. Friends and employers (shhh!) Don’t even know I’m gone half the time. Once, an editor called me to discuss a title on my column. The editor thought I was sitting at home in Houston.

I was sitting in a snack bar on the Great Wall of China. The statute of limitations expired on this unjustified absence.

Traveling is a wonderful experience. You don’t need to arrive at the airport four hours early.


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