I’ve been enamoured with Vespas ever since seeing Audrey Hepburn hop on the back of Gregory Peck’s for a ride through the streets in Roman Holiday. That carefree Vespa jaunt through Rome seems to encompass all the freedom and adventure that Hepburn’s character is seeking.
Romantic ideals aside, the concept of a Vespa tour in Europe never really captured my wallet. Tiny streets, unpredictable drivers and stories of motorcycle crashes kept me firmly in my public transportation zone, however limited it is. However, when Left Bank Scooters contacted me about taking a tour, I decided to embrace my inner Princess Ann and take the risk.
And the reward was well-worth the risk. Riding a Vespa along the Mediterranean was absolutely thrilling. It was my first time on a scooter, but driving one turned out to be much easier than I expected. It took me a few minutes to get the hang of it, but by the end of day, I felt comfortable picking up speed around even the curviest of hill curves (OK, my heart was pounding but I managed it).
The customized tour was also brilliant. Andrew, my tour guide, has been in Nice for about the same amount of time as me, but I was shocked at all the cool places he’s discovered. It pays to have a Vespa to explore on! Tours offered by Left Bank Scooters are customized to the client’s interests—you can use the time to see the main sights in Nice, take the scenic route along the sea to Monaco, or check out the best view points from the hills. Since I’d already seen the main sights, I relied on Andrew’s regional prowess—and the tour went above and beyond my expectations.
I’ve been eyeing Fort de Mont Alban through my window since I arrived, and girlfriends and I would often discuss how to reach the top of the hill while lying on the beach at Villefranche-sur-Mer. We could never figure it out—so I was stoked when we emerged out of a forest-y hillside to the fort. Constructed in 1557, it protected Nice from the French—until they finally took control of the fort in 1792 and turned it into a prison. The view was spectacular—no doubt thanks to its strategic position to survey the seas.
After twisting down the hill, Andrew pointed out a peaceful and protected beach, a far cry from the tourist-packed stretch along the Promenade des Anglais. It features a three-tier diving board that I doubt I could find the courage to jump off—but it would make for excellent people-watching breaks from magazine reading. (And also the perfect place to drag a daredevil boyfriend who’s sick of laying out on the rocky beaches!)
I was then deemed ready to take on traffic on the Promenade des Anglais. We ended up at Musée des Arts Asiatiques, only to be disappointed by a weekly closing sign. Luckily, Parc Phoenix next door was open—after springing 2 Euros on an entry fee, we wandered into one of the biggest tropical gardens in Europe. Peacocks, geese and iguanas wandered the area freely, while emus, prairie dogs and alligators were kept in fenced areas. Dozens of varieties of exotic flowers dotted the grounds and the greenhouse.
Heading north, I had to concentrate on navigating curves at high speed. It was easy to get distracted by the unbelieveable views of the city and the sea! We ended up at La Cascade de Gairaut, a waterfall situated high on a hill overlooking Nice. It was built in 1883 to bring water to a newly-constructed canal, and continues to function today.
The tour reminded me that even when you think you’ve seen all a city has to offer, there’s always more! I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t yet discovered these sites, but I definitely think it was a thousand times to cooler to check them out on a Vespa.
My ride was compensated by Left Bank Scooters, but all opinions are completely my own.
**Note: I’ve been informed that Left Bank Scooters is now only running in Paris. I really enjoyed the experience in Nice, and would certainly recommend the company in Paris. (June 6, 2012)