Wind surfing in St Laurent du Var

Windsurfing - close to Nice

There's no windsurfing in Nice; you can sail, jet ski, canoe, parascend, even water ski but to windsurf, you need to go to St Laurent du Var.

daughter during a wind surfing lesson, July 2009

My daughter having a wind surfing lesson - the calm conditions at St Laurent are a beginner's dream.

It was very easy to be up and away on the first lesson in this sheltered cove, a great confidence builder.

St Laurent du Var is just on the west side of Nice airport, right by the the Cap3000 shopping centre or 'centre commercial'. From the Gare Routière in Nice, catch bus 52 for Pugets at quai 14, it comes every 15 minutes, the journey takes about 30 minutes and costs 1 euro. Get off the bus at the 'Centre Commercial' stop, close to the Cap300 mall. The return bus stop to Nice is on the same side facing the same way, and is marked '52 Gare Routiere', not '52 Pugets' which takes you the opposite way. If you have a car, you can park in the Cap3000 carpark for free.

Once off the bus, walk along the pavement to the sea and in about 2 minutes you will come straight to the entrance of the 'Centre Nautique'

Entrance to the Centre Nautique

Here's the google map - you will need to zoom out to get a better idea of the location.

To reach the office, walk through the cafe on the right and turn right into the Centre Nautique. There's a small office ahead of you. You can sign up for a weeks group course or private lessons for one or two persons. We booked three 1-hour lessons for my daughter and me. The lessons started at 1pm each day which suited us fine and fitted in very well between the morning and afternoon group lessons, although other times are possible - they seemd fairly flexible.

The cost of a private lesson for one was 25 euros; for the two of us, it was 35 euros. They don't take credit cards or Carte Bleu so you need to take cash. We paid for one lesson in advance then on the day for the last 2 lessons.

A week's course of 10 hours (Monday-Friday, 2 hours each day) would have been 91 euros for under 16 years and 101 euros for 16 and over. For the under 10s, there is a week of 30 minute lessons for 50 euros.

The week courses included membership of the club. As we had 1-hour private lessons, we didn't need to join. Joining fees for a year were 46 euros for under 16 and 56 euros for everyone else.

The joining fee gives lots of benefits - use of the changing rooms, showers and loos. Children can use the table tennis tables and a small supervised swimming pool plus some discount in the cafe.

Helene was our instructor and she spoke just enough English. I was surprised how quickly we progressed. I thought the first lesson would be spent just trying to stand up on the board. The conditions were so perfect though, we were up and away and the wind was very light but consistent so it was easy.

The basics seemed straight forward - back to the wind, open and close the sail, drop it and pull around the back, then shuffle cautiously step smartly around to the other side to come back again and tilting it forward and backwards to change direction. After my hour, I hadn't fallen in although I had come close and my daughter had only abandoned ship a couple of times.

I decided that was enough for me just to have a go and to let my daughter have the next 2 lessons on her own - and I could take some photos. She progressed very well and learned alternative techniques to change direction. The third day was windy - enough to make waves in the small cove so that speeded things up a bit during her lesson and she spent a lot of time pulling the sail out of the water - exhausting work by the 20th time.

The whole set up is right on the the beach. The centre Nautique has areas fenced off for the launch of the surfboards and this has the effect of partially enclosing a small area of public beach which made it very uncrowded. For the 3 days, we spent the whole day here on the beach, close by to the club, cafe etc. The beach is pebbly but there was a wide band of dark sand by the water's edge and into the water. The sea here is very calm due to the purpose-built cove of rocks - perfect for beginners learning to windsurf and very safe for children paddling in the water. There is a sign saying no swimming but there were plenty of adults and children in the sea, playing, chatting, on lilos etc. You just had had to be cautious and pay attention when the surfboards went by.

Apart from the wind surfing, it was a perfect place to come with small children - it would be worth paying membership here just to use the swimming pool, loos and showers - much cheaper than the private beaches and nearby Cocody beach, even for just one week.

The only thing to bring would be a mat and parasol although if you get here early enough, there are coveted areas of shady palm trees at the back of the beach, these are bagsied early on by the oldies who bring their own sun loungers and settle in for the day. It's very French - I didn't hear any other English voices at all.

If you didnt want to bring your own picnic from Nice, you could eat at the cafe attached to the Centre Nautique or wait for the peripatetic food/drink sellers who trawl the strip of beach every hour or so - we bought doughnuts and cold drinks, 2 euros each. Or, a couple of times, we went straight from the bus into the Cap3000 shopping centre and bought some filled baguettes to eat on the beach. The cafe at the centre does a great chocolate covered waffle or 'gauffre' for 2,50 euros - a perfect mid-afternoon snack after the wind surfing lesson.

There are several free-standing food kiosks just within the entrance to the shopping centre - some offer a 'formule' - a combined offer drink/sandwich/cake at a slightly reduced price. There's also newly renovated clean free loos to use within the centre - they are hidden away a bit down a narrow corridor. You walk past the food kiosks and turn left at Mango, keep walking on and looking out on the left for the corridor - it's signposted but you don't see it until the last minute.

I recommend having a go at wind surfing, even if you have never tried it - the conditions are so good at St Laurent - in just one hour you get a genuine experience of wind-surfing - it was just enough to have this taster session for me. My daughter went on to have a couple more lessons and I could see her improve over the three days. It was great fun and when the wind is light, it was less arduous than I had anticipated. The whole day - lunch, wind surf, then relax on the beach and within easy reach of Nice was a great day out.

We are all bouyed up by our windsurfing success and have our eye on the water skiing - 'ski nautique' which is right at the side of the beach at the end of an outreach of rocks. Or rather, I might sign my daughter up for lessons and I will relax on the beach take photos.

It's 54 euros for a 30 minute lesson using a bar attached to the side of the speed boat. Then to try the real thing, it's 27 euros for 12 minutes water skiing. Reservations through Thierry who speaks good English on 06 61 77 62 17.

Contact information:

Centre Nautique
416 Avenue E. Donadei
St Laurent du Var

tel: 04 93 07 53 73

Cap 3000 indoor air-conditioned shopping mall
website: Cap 3000

St Laurent du Var website (French)

a walk around the Cap de Nice - le sentier littoral

Cap de Nice coastal walk, July 2009

This circular walk takes you down to the coast line to walk along a rocky path hugging the edge of the sea around the Cap de Nice and then back up to the main road, the Basse Corniche. From there, you can walk back into Nice along the road or take a pedestrian route via interconnecting steps most of the way back.

In 2009, an additional section of the coastal path has been opened that starts further along towards Villefranche and finishes in the Darse Port in Villefranche. I've not tried this part yet although I have walked into Villefranche along the Basse Corniche which passes the Princess Grace Kelly Memorial we passed by the start of this new walk.

There's the option of a couple of buses, the ligne dazur 81 and the TAM 100, back to Nice from the main road if the last 250 steps up from the coast finished you off, which will save you the walk back into Nice although by that point you will have done the hard bit.

The start of the walk is signposted 'Sentier Littoral' - coastal path from the pavement opposite Parc Vigier on Boulevard Franck Pilatte. From Nice, to reach this point, you need to walk all the way around the Port, past the Reserve beach and Club Nautique de Nice and past Jouni de la Reserve restaurant. Or the lignedazur buses 20 and 30 stop almost by the start of the walk at the bus stop named 'Parc Vigier'. Take the steps down to the path towards the sea and turn left and follow the route all the way around the Cap of Nice. There are some nice views back at Nice. It's not the most exciting walk but it's quiet and a chance to get out of Nice for an hour or two. Along the way, there are some information posters (in French) describing the local flora and fauna you might expect to find.

It's a good place to fish and snorkel but generally it's a quiet walk and there's not many people about. It's a good walk done in the morning as you are protected form the sun but don't go on a windy day - we have been sprayed by the sea on breezy days, it would be easy to be swept into the sea by a wave. There's not much in the way of railings although each year, there have been a couple of nods to health and safety - more railings are up this year. The path is uneven and rocky, it's hard to take in the views and walk at the same time as you need to keep an eye on the uneven surfaces.

Once you are around the corner, you might spot the odd naturist sunbather. Telling your daughter 'don't look' is as about effective as saying don't think about a pink elephant.

Somewhere to park your velobleu?

Once you have reached a newly renovated modern villa, look left and you will see a sign marking the end of the path and some steps. If you miss them, the path comes to a sudden deadend in a further 200 meters and you will have to re-track back to the steps. At this point you can turn around and go back the way you came or take the 250+ steps up to the Basse Corniche - Boulevard Carnot/Boulevard Maeterlinck.

Once here, turn left for Nice back down Boulevard Carnot or cross over by the Champion supermarket and walk along Boulevard du Mont Boron for a couple of hundres metres and look left for the wonderful view point of Nice and then take the steps - the Montee Gurnee, down. There is a park at the bottom, do not take this on a sunday or it will be locked, only they lock the bottom gate not the top gate and you will have to walk all the way back up again. Instead turn right and walk along Boulevard Carnot and then cross over and take the Chemin tordu du Mont Boron and the Montee St Aignan back down to Franck Pilatte.

Velobleu inauguration

velobleu inauguration, Place Garibaldi, 18th July 2009

Place Garibaldi

Saturday 18th July 2009

Various speeches and maps handed out plus special editions of Nice Matin.

Plenty of the Velos in evidence and at the end, they were carted and cycled off presumably to fill up the stands.

The application forms are ready to download from the website. You need a French bank account and to take some ID with you. Cards are issued at the ligne d'azur office at Place Massena, there's a dedicated counter. It took a very long time and we will have to repeat the process next year when my daughter is old enough to have her own card, you have to be over 14 to use the system.

Tried a bike today just to see how easy it was to lock and unlock and took it for a quick go around the block. It's not that quick a system nor completely intuitive but it worked and no doubt I will speed up with practise. It helped that there was an option for online instructions in English.

We spotted several velobleus out and about.

Celebrate a decade of Messenger with free winks, emoticons, display pics, and more. Get Them Now

launch of Velobleu tomorrow...

Friday 17th July

photo courtesy: Cyril Dodergny, infographie Langlade

Nice Matin 16th July 2009

Tomorrow at 11am, the velobleu is launched in Place Garibaldi, handy for us so we'll probably go along.

Link to the article in Nice Matin (in French)

The website is finally launched:

If you go to the Ligne d'Azur office on Place Massena, next door to the Nespresso shop and opposite Sports 2000, you can pick up a free guide and map showing all the locations. I really hope this bike scheme will work as it would be really handy for us to nip to the main train station. I noticed that Cimiez is not served by the velobleu, probably too hilly. There's a stand by Parc Vigier - right by the start of the coastal walk around the Cap de Nice.

You have to ID yourself each time before jumping on a bike, either by a swipe card or by phone. I am going to try and organise a card, seems much less faff. You can order a card via the website although this function wasn't working last time I checked.

Antibes - the nearest sandy beach to Nice - my website

Thursday 9th July 2009

Plage de la Gravette
Plage de La Gravette, Antibes (with apologies for terrible photo-stitching)

We wanted the feel of sand between our toes so went to Antibes for the day. Closer substitutes with almost sandy beaches include Villefranche, Plage Passable and Cocody Beach but the proper sand starts west of Nice at Antibes.

Took the 200 TAM bus from Nice Gare Routiere to Antibes. It was one euro but not worth the time involved really as we waited over 40 minutes in the bus station for the 200 to arrive. The journey was 1 hour 35 minutes, then a walk to the beach. It was lovely on the beach though and not too crowded yet as the French and UK school holidays haven't started for everyone yet.

We go to the free little public beach called la Gravette rather than along the the coast a bit to the wider stretch of Les Salis. From the map below, you can see the route. It's a odd way to get to the beach, there's no signpost and you have to go into the Marina (the red dot on the map) then out again under a set of arches to get on the beach. There's a kiosk for snacks, icecreams, drinks and a fresh water shower by the sea with a tap part - it's OK to drink so you can fill up your water bottle.

The loos (one for men, one for women) are outside the beach just by the arch. They are pretty revolting - a hole and somewhere to put your feet but it flushes and there is a wash basin. No paper or soap, take your own and use hand sanitiser. Or go in the sea. A 'refinement' to the loos this year is the doors - last year they were half-grilled so that people could see you, at least they have been filled in this year so you can pee in peace. There is a definite skill to using the loo - a balance, literally, between aim and noise - you'll find out.

map of Antibes and Plage de la Gravette

map of central Antibes, with route to La Gravette beach from train and bus.

(map courtesy of Plan Guide City Map, Antibes, around 6 euros)

just outside the beach

Here's the entrance to the beach, looking from the beach to the Marina. I photoshopped out (v badly) the shopping trolley full of beach paraphernalia that my dear husband was holding, he doesn't usually have his wrist bent like that.

It was a lovely day, reading, picnicking, snoozing, buying ice creams etc and we eeked it out for as long as possible to about 6pm before packing and heading back. Sand is certainly more comfortable than Nice's pebbles but a week later, we are still crunching sand around the apartment and the towels needed washing the same day - they stay much 'cleaner' on the pebbles.

Anyway, coming home also turned into a nightmare. A very long wait, it must have been over 30 minutes before the 200 arrived which was full and the driver let off a few passsengers further down the road from our stop and then refused to stop for the 20 or so waiting people at our stop. At this point, we decided to leg it to the train station. This was our one bit of transport luck that day. In 5 minutes, a fast train to Nice Ville arrived and in about 20 minutes we were in Nice and headed for a tram to Garibaldi, none of us could face the walk at that point. The fare was 4 euros each, about 1,50 euros for my daughter plus a euro each for the tram. Worth every penny.

Not sure I'll bother with the 200 again, I'd rather pay the train fare for most places west of Nice.

my daughter enjoying the sandy beach in Antibes
My daughter enjoying the sand on La Gravette, the beach looks almost empty in this pic.

Other ideas for trips out of Nice.

A trip to Villefranche


Wednesday 8th July 2009

Agnes B sale started today 40% off everything bar a small room with new a/w stock. Too keen and arrived 30 minutes before opening.

Coffee at Les Ponchettes in the Cours Saleya, waiting for the Agnes B shop to open. 2 euros an espresso.

Les Ponchettes on the Cours Saleya

While we were waiting it was interesting to see the local bobbies (who looked about fourteen and arrived on bikes - see their cycle helmets) shooing away an illegal trader from the Cours Saleya - you can see his bundle of fake handbags on the ground behind him:

May I see your licence to trade Sir

Came away from Agnes B empty-handed, what I wanted didn't come in my size, what came in my size didn't good good on me :-(

The sales seem to have started late this year, usually it is the end of June.

I will nip into town later to have a look.

OK, back from town, sales everywhere in a big way, Galeries Lafayette, Sephota etc

According to the Galeries Lafayette shop window, Sales start 8th July until 11th August 2009

Another new thing to note in Nice this summer - the wonderful Nespresso boutique (they don't call it a shop) has moved from Victor Hugo to a prime location on Place Massena, very handy for us. It occupies 2 floors, similar to the the flagship store in Paris and has a recycling unit for the capsules. Lovely café at the back for free coffee and chocolate for paying customers.

Summer 2009

Saturday 4th July

Arrived in Nice late at night following a 2-hour delay in Liverpool. Lot of luggage so took a taxi. It's very warm and humid. Studio same as ever but dustier. It's a priorty to find a plumber as there are bubbling noises and fine spray coming out of the water cylinder. Great.

(7.6.09 - update) We found a great plumber who speaks a little English. I have his card should anyone need a contact, email me for details. He charged 100 euros, no idea if this was good or bad but at least the problem is resolved, better than a flood from the third floor of a Residence and mercifully my water cylinder is quiet after 5 years of gurgling.

Sunday 5th July

Very hot and humid. The Tour de France passes through Nice today at lunchtime on Day 2 of the race, having started in Monaco the day before. From mid-morning, promotional floats, vans, bikes and cars go by the Port and up the

closed to traffic Promenade des Anglais. There are over 5,000 of them and they are very popular with the crowds as they fling freebies randomly into the crowd, less randomly if they spot a pretty face. Sweets, water, hats, bags, all sorts of crap. The French seem to love this.

When the cyclists finally arrive, it is all over very quickly. The flatness of the Prom means it is a fast sprint of a race. I put my camera on 'burst' and captured the yellow jersey in 6th place by the Port.

It's still hotter than hot so we retreat to the studio and crank up the air conditioning, seldom used but occasionally indispensible.

Down to the Cours Saleya in the late afternoon and share a bottle of rosé at the new American bar, Blast.

So what's new in Nice

Place Garibaldi is looking better than ever. The new trees are in blossom, extra seating is dotted about and several cafés have edged into the new pedestrianised parts. The fountain wasn't working - wonder if the constant soaking on the surrounding seating area has meant a re-think.

The other major change is the introduction this year of free bike hire like the vélib system in Paris. In Nice, it is called vélobleu. The tourist office have no information about it and the website is still at front-page status only. It's supposed to be up and running by mid-July. the idea is you can grab or park a bike from any of many stands dotted around Nice and for the first 30 minutes it's free. There are subscriptions, registrations, tourist options etc but no details yet. If you go over the 30 minutes (trying to find a free space at a bike stand?) you are charged from 1 euro and more for every hour breached. It looks as though there are only about 15 bikes at each stand. They are serviced and replaced and sorted by a private company. I know Paris bikes have turned up in Africa but it's nice to hope that it will be a success here. There are a few bike lanes around Nice but the Prom is a great place to cycle and generally French drivers are very careful near cyclists.

New Vélobleu bike stand by Castel Plage at the foot of the Castle Hill

Location of bike stands throughout Nice

Instructions for resistration and use