It’s not just Nice, it’s formidable!
The Cote d’Azur, otherwise known as the French Riviera, has been associated with chic elegance and lofty living for well over a century. Nice, the cosmopolitan capital of the Cote d’Azur, is one of the many playgrounds for the rich and wealthy and is close to other havens such as St. Tropez, Cannes and the epitome of glamour, Monte Carlo.
Nice is an ethnically diverse port city and The Promenade des Anglais stretches along the waterfront with a spectacular view onto the Mediterranean sea. From museums to the lively flower market, Nice delivers. Tourism agencies boast about all the city has to offer; the culture, the shopping, the dining but the real draw for tourists is without a doubt, the sun and well, the Mediterranean is pretty attractive too.
Taking a stroll along the Promenade is like walking through the pages of Vogue. The port is lined with yachts as the pebbled beaches are blanketed with sun worshippers and swimmers. Nice is a great place to go parasailing and surprisingly, it costs just €30 for two to go on the dazzling ride over the coast.
Taking a trip into the Old Town, “Vieux Nice” and you will find a completely different world. With its shady narrow streets, colourful markets, cozy squares lined with cafes and baroque churches, the Old Town feels much as it must have about two centuries ago. Surrounded by beautiful buildings in their Mediterranean hues of pink, dark salmons, blue, yellows and greens, this area is mostly pedestrianised. It is home to traditional French restaurants, cool bars and quirky little shops.
As you can see, there is more to Nice than the sun and sea. Once you travel beyond the Promenade des Anglais and wind up the narrow streets into the heart of the city, you will find many hidden treasures and unearth the real delight that is Nice.
The sensual centre of the city, this area, just off the old town of Nice, comes to life early each morning with markets of flowers, food and, on Mondays, antiques. Once the markets finish, restauranteurs set up their outdoor tables for dinner. Today, the ambience is casual but in the 18th century, the Cours Saleya was a hub for only the most well-heeled residents. The Chapelle de la Miséricorde, on the northern side, is a magnificent testament to the prestige of the Cours Saleya. Built in 1740, it is considered a masterpiece of baroque architecture and the interior is a fabulous display of frescoes and gilt
I have already mentioned this delight in the heart of the city but it is worth a second mention. On my first trip to Nice, I missed this hidden secret but I did not let it escape me the second time around. If you are going to stroll around the old town, organise your walking tour in advance to be sure to capture every piece of history it has to offer. Why not begin in the heart, in Cour Selaya and take in the morning market and the Chapelle de la Miséricorde. On the rue de la Poissonnerie, you’ll come to another baroque delight, the Chapelle de l’Annonciation, popularly known as Sainte-Rita. Take a right at the Place-Vieille and then a quick left. In front of you is the Eglise Saint-Jacques, popularly known as the Eglise du Jésu, which was begun in 1612 by the Jesuits. This church is notable for its interior decoration with Louis XIII woodwork and the frescoes dating from 1850.
Continue on to rue Sainte-Réparate and visit the Cathédrale Sainte Réparate, consecrated in 1699. Named in honour of Nice’s patron saint, the interior is glorious. Over the altar hangs a painting showing 17th century Nice.
Palais Lascaris is another beautiful building in the old town, which was built in the Genoan style in 1665. The sumptuous interior is wrapped around an amazing balustraded stairway which leads to a riot of paintings and statues in the richly ornamented rooms.
Visit the local fish market which is encircled by the Place Saint-François and finish the visit in the Place Garibaldi, recently renovated to highlight the elegant townhouses and arcades surrounding the statue of Garibaldi.
3. Colline du Chateau
For a spectacular panoramic view of the city in all of its glory as the blue water of the Mediterranean laps up onto the pebbled beaches, visit the Colline du Chateau. Located 90 metres above the city, overlooking the “Baie des Anges”, Bay of Angels, and harbour offices, it offers any tourist the best vantage point. Not much is left of its ruined castle besides crumbling walls. You can climb all of the steps and reward yourself with the view or you can also take the ascenseur, lift, which will take you three-quarters of the way up.
If you go past the old port heading east towards Monaco, there is a little pathway, the “Sentier du Littoral,” which winds its way up, down and along creeks, cliffs, sandy beaches, pebbled beaches and even a national park. It leads from Coco Beach along the side of the cliff, which you can follow around the Cap de Nice half way to Villefranche-sur-Mer. Be prepared for several hundred steps up to rejoin the road but well worth it as it is a beautiful walk.
As of July 2008, entry to most of the museums in the city is free. The older, upper part of the city, Cimiez, is home to some of the most famous museums, an area which was a favourite of Queen Victoria.
As I am a huge fan of Henri Matisse, I may be a bit biased but in my view, a trip to the Musee Matisse is well worth it. The innovative art of Matisse was inspired by the fresh colours of Nice. This vast museum shows works from his more traditional early days to the end of his career. The museum gift shop features prints of the artist’s works.
Other museums include: the Museum of Asian Art and the Parc Phoenix, which houses different plants in the botanical garden and tropical glass house and various animals. Both of these museums are located on the Promenade des Anglais. Musee Chagall includes stained glass windows by the artist and the Musee et Site Archeologiques de Cimiez is located next to Musee Matisse. This museum includes the ruins of the Gallo-Roman settlement in Cimiez, plus a museum with nice documentation on Gallo-Roman life.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and Musee des Beaux-Arts are also worth a visit.
Stony, pebbled beaches are not the most comfortable in the world so if you are thinking of going to Nice for bathing or general lounging on the beach, you may wish to think again. A few private beaches have added a layer of sand. These beaches offer various services from restaurants and bars to the rental of lounge chairs and towels.
There are sandier beaches located in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Antibes and Cannes. Only 20 minutes away by the TAM 100 bus, Villefranche is a particularly preferred beach choice, especially if travelling with children.
A spacious studio apartment on the Promenade des Anglais, with a sea view, and one which would sleep up to four people could cost you from £300-1500 per week.
There are numerous youth hostels in the city also. Les Camélias is situated near the shopping centre Nice Etoile, in the heart of the city centre. Villa Saint Exupery is an amazing hostel with a great party vibe. It is situated to the north of the town centre in a former monastery. With free internet and free breakfast, it is a great option for those on a budget.
For mid-range hotels, Hotel Anis is the perfect option. It is a three-star hotel located close to the Promenade. Surrounded by splendid blooming gardens and exotic trees, this hotel is set in the tranquillity of the hills and well worth a visit.
The Hotel Vendome is another great mid-range hotel, located about 500 metres from the beach. In the centre of Nice, this special hotel has been completely renovated and combines ancient charm with modern comfort.
If you plan on going on a splurge, why not check out the Hotel Palais de la Mediteranee. A monument of Nice, ideally located on the Promenade des Anglais, and close to the city centre, this charming hotel is a truly beautiful site. The palace’s white Art Deco façade, built in the year 1930, was restored in 2004 to its original beauty. It towers over the Bay of Angels and the turquoise waters. This five-star luxury hotel blends contemporary ideas, opulence on a grand scale, as well as a vast choice of services that will make your stay on the Côte d’Azur unforgettable.
The Hotel Beau Rivage is another option for those of you after something sumptuous. This hotel was built in 1866. Artists and intellectuals of that time such as Matisse, Fitzgerald, Nietzsche and Theckhov were fond of this hotel and were regular clients. French architect Jean-Michel WIlmotte completed a full scale renovation of the hotel at the beginning of the 21st Century. “Local feel and modernity” were the key words of his project. This hotel has an atmosphere of pure design with a touch of Nice.
No trip to Nice is complete without even a visit to The Negresco. Overlooking the Promenade des Anglais on the Baie des Anges, this mythical palace is a five-star hotel. With 96 rooms and 21 suites, each room has its own decoration and the styles range from Louis XIII to Art Moderne. In 2003, the Hotel Negresco was listed by the government of France as a National Historic Building and is a member of Leading Hotels of the World.
The Chantecler restaurant is housed in the Negresco hotel. If you think it is going to be pricey, think again. Chantecler offers an excellent lunch menu on a Sunday which is one of the best deals in Nice. We suggest you take the menu with wine. At £55 it is great value for sumptuous dining in a fabulous location. At only an extra 10 euros for wine, it is a steal.
La Voglia is located at the western end of the Cours Saleya and is one of the busiest restaurants in Nice. It is great value, the portions are large and the service is very profession. The menu consists of various pastas and pizzas and there are excellent value lunch specials.
For over 50 years, the traditional auberge in Old Nice, L’Escalinada, has served first class typical Niçoise cuisine. Although L’Escalinada is located on a street that would suggest a tourist restaurant, expect to see a mix of dedicated locals and tourists alike. The menu contains many of the Nicoise specials done to perfection. If the main restaurant is filled just walk a few steps to the right for the annex.
The central shopping area of Nice is Magenta Square and the streets surrounding it. Rue Paradis and Rue de Suède are home to the most famous fashion studios including the original shop of popular brand Façonnable, today boasting hundreds of branches worldwide. Rue Masséna has the enormous Galeries Lafayette, second in size only to its Parisian branch and Avenue Jean-Médecin and Rue de Verdun are filled with the outlets of popular chains. Nice is generally associated with shopping for exclusive chic clothes, but the city, in fact, promises excellent bargains to all shoppers, regardless of the style and price-level they prefer.
Nice is easily accessible and is located only a bus and train journey from the city airport. No matter what kind of holiday you are after, you will find it in Nice. Attractive to people of all ages, visit the capital of the Cote d’Azur and enjoy the delights it has to offer you.