Nice is definately a ‘nice’ word when referring to the azure waters and heat haze of the main city on the French Riviera. This fabulous town holds a special place in both my heart and my passport and I have had the great pleasure to have spent a lot of time here over the past few years. So much so, that I am beginning to feel like a local in some respects as MB( Monsieur Bleu) and I have our favourite haunts now and we are just beginning to get remembered and recognised! Ooh la la!
Now to set things straight…I am going to write about the real Nice and her counterparts along the French shoreline, not something out of a Jackie Collin’s novel! Nice is not all Manolo’s and Maseratis my friends…NON! The glitz and glamour of heels and Hermes is not for me and I have never even stepped a sandy foot into any of the many designer boutiques located here or even dined in a Michelin star restaurant (and believe me, there are plenty of both)! No, my world is one of real life and like many of you I’m sure, I thought visiting this jewel of a place meant going bankrupt to have a meal or only stepping out in the latest designs, but both are extremely untrue and I wanted to restore your faith in the belief that even people like moi can live large without breaking the bank, a heel or a nail!
The first thing you follow when you enter Nice from the airport, is the very long, palm lined boulevard called the Promenade des Anglais. Facing the Baie des Anges, famous for its superior stretch of pebble beach with water so turquoise it hurts your eyes, beach restaurants with their blue and white striped umbrellas and sun lounges lining the waters edge, you can imagine why so many of the world’s rich and famous flock here during the summer months. Across the road there are charming Niçoise style apartment blocks with sun kissed balconies and many hotels with breathtaking views of the sea. All of this splendour however, is just the tip of the gelato when it comes to Nice and delving into her inner streets and exploring the local side of town is just as beautiful.
Allow me to warn you that Nice is a huge spread out city, so finding exactly what area to stay in is very important when it comes to accommodation and entertainment. Having the largest International, Domestic and Private airports on the French Riviera, it is always busy and bustling, even in the cooler months. Transport is easier now due to the introduction of Uber etc, but being too far out of the main area and excitement gets to be a drag if you are on foot. Taxi’s (normally a prestigious style of vehicle but still reasonable prices, I once hailed a Porshe 4WD to get me to the aiport), local buses and the excellent new tram system are all viable options.
STAY: May I be honest and suggest not to stay in the area near the airport (unless absolutely necessary). Known as Californie, there is not much around here except for a huge Casino shopping centre and um…the airport! Make sure you find your way to area’s such as The Port (my personal favourite), Old Nice (Vieux Nice), the Carre d’Or (centre), Carabacel near the Acropolis, La Buffa and Musiciens or stay on the Promenade des Anglais, more pricey as you have the million dollar views (but only from the middle part starting at the famous and expensive wedding cake/belle Époque stye architecture of the Hotel Negresco). The area near the main train station or Gare has more of a local vibe and is quite good as it’s cheaper and not too far a walk from the popular pedestrian shopping street of Avenue Jean Medicin. [FYI: All these neighbourhoods have many hotels or rentals that can be found on websites such as AirB&B, Homeaway, booking.com etc and can you have you ‘living it up like a local’ in no time!] It’s totally up to you, but do your research!
OLD NICE: One of the most popular areas to visit upon arrival and that has something for everyone is Old Nice or Vieux Nice. A magnificent maze of narrow, cobblestone streets with traditional Niçoise style pastel coloured buildings with their famous green shutters, fantastic boutiques, cafés, bars, pubs, restaurants and of course the bustling Marché aux Fleurs in the Cours Saleya has you in French raptures immediately! This fresh produce and flower market is on every day except Monday when it turns into an antique / brocante market (where you can find a treasure or ten to marvel over) and even just being near the former house of Matisse in all its distressed-yellow glory, whilst munching on ripe strawberries, smelling fresh lavender and inspecting the many cheese stalls, is well worth the trip!
Visit the main cathedral, Eglise St Jaques and marvel at the baroque style interior or just get lost amongst the many winding streets and steep stairways. If you love cooking, like me, make sure you pick up a can of the famous olive oil made only in Nice from Nicolas ALZIARI from their concept store near the Cours Saleya. This oil is so damn good and inexpensive that even my French mother in law buys it in bulk whenever she gets the chance and its pretty blue/ red or yellow cans are adorable! Afterwards, take time out and taste some of the unusual ice-cream flavours from the famous gelateria Fenocchio or just sit, sip and relax over a cafè or aperitif( normally a pastis or glass of rosé) from one of the many cafés or brasseries and indulge in a bit of people watching to perk up your morning! [FYI: The last café opposite the courthouse or Palais de Justice has 1 euro coffee’s which are the cheapest we have found! There is also a small post office near here too if you need to send anything home.]
NEW NICE: Personally I refer to the area starting near Avenue Jean Medicin and the Promenade du Paillon (an enormous green park area, completed a few years back and fantastic for families and children as it has an architecturally designed play area, trees and mini water fountains that send anyone from toddler to teens into raptures) to Boulevard Gambetta up to Avenue Thiers, New Nice! I find this area the most popular for tourists as it encompasses the three main walking streets of Rue de France, Avenue Jean Medicin, and Rue Messéna which are lined with shops and restaurants. It is also home to a mini Notre Dame Cathedral, Alliance Française School of Language (popular for those who wish to come and do a speedy French course) and the opulent area of the Carre d’Or.
LOCAL FOOD: A trip to this beautiful city wouldn’t be complete without indulging in fantastic local food and wine… my favourite things! Nice, being so close to the Italian border has a specialised style of cuisine. Pizza, of course can be found around every street corner, but the 3 x best places we have tried are: La Pizza Cresci in the New Town, Spizzico (cheap and cheerful) and Vieux Four, both at the Port. Find your favourite and let ME know!
Socca, a type of chickpea flour pancake with herbs is trés popular as a snack or with a glass of rosé and the best place to sample these are in the Port area at Chez Pippo. Farci is another traditional dish. Farci, meaning stuffed or filled, can be found on many menu’s around the town and they are usually tomatoes or a vegetable of some sort stuffed with rice and mince. Delicious. Another personal favourite ‘only to be found street food in Nice’ of MB and I is the growingly popular Pan Bagnat.
Basically a round bread roll stuffed with Niçoise salad and drenched in olive oil, it is a must for that cheap day on the beach and a tasty alternative to the never humble baguette sandwich! Drool! Don’t leave Nice without trying one! Speaking of Niçoise Salad, this light dish is also everywhere around town and can vary somewhat in ingredients. Make sure you drown it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar before eating or it can be dry. Tasty, tiny black olives, fritters, tapenade, Ratatouille, Pissaladiere and Fish Soup are all other specialties of Nice and my two best best picks of restaurants for this style of cuisine are both located in the Old Town. Safari and L’escalinada. Bon Appetite!
ROSÉ: A special mention must go to this heaven on earth, sunshine in a bottle beverage that is the other bloodstream running through this town and her people! Rosé wine is undoubtedly the most common drink consumed in vast quantities on the Cote d’Azur! Just take a look at the huge area dedicated to this peach coloured liquid heaven in the supermarkets to prove my point! Walls of rows upon rows of pink bottles take up most of the liquor shelves and prices vary from very cheap to over the top! I’ve tried a range of these over my time, but the cheaper versions are just as good as any of the expensive counterparts. Consumed at any time of the day, usually over ice, it is the perfect accompaniment to any meal! Santé!
BEACHES (Les Plages): The beach in Nice is basically one long stretch of smooth, grey pebbles facing cool, aquamarine coloured water. There are many ‘Private Beach’ areas which offer sun loungers (chaise) and umbrella’s for a price and you can stay all day. These are all located off the Promenade des Anglais starting from the airport all the way up to Castel Beach opposite the Fort and there are many to choose from. Miami Page, Hi Beach, Neptune Plage and Castel Plage to name a few. These are available to anyone and you don’t have to break the bank here either to enjoy them!
You can enter anytime of the day and you will be offered a chair either in the front line right next to the sea (most expensive) or the rows at the back which are cheaper. All day dining is offered either sitting in the restaurant or choose to eat at your chair! Cool! They are all great and you will be welcomed and set at ease when entering. Be aware though, that the pebbles are quite tricky to navigate when walking in and out of the sea, so purchasing a cheap pair of rubber beach shoes (available at any tourist shop) is advised! [FYI: Never bring your own food to these places as it is an insult and frowned upon.]
For the budget conscious, there are many Public Beach’s to access dotted between the private beach areas and you can stay all day and take your own food and drink (Pan Bagnat time people) or sometimes there are beach guys walking along offering cold drinks and fruit to purchase at anytime. There is even a specialised disabled beach for those needing wheelchair access and also a non smoking beach ( but everyone smokes anyway!)
Past the Port and the ferry terminal, there is an area called Mont Boron, and opposite this there are beautiful rocks that you can dive from if you are game and two little beaches that are frequented by the locals. This is my favourite place. The water is cold and the sun is warm and you sit amongst all the older crowd who go swimming in the mornings. Get there early as it is a very popular spot. Pick any of the beaches you may want to visit and just enjoy your day!
VISIT: In amongst all the eating, drinking, sunning, swimming and shopping, there are also many activities to choose from whether they be cultural or physical. I recommend visiting the amazing art museums of Chagall, Matisse and Modern and Contemporary Art. Buses are available to take you there and it is quite simple. Check out the huge stone head located near the Acropolis and the Modern Art museum, as it is actually a huge Public Library and very beautiful. Want to burn off some of those croissants, take the plunge and walk up the 1000 steps to the top of the Fort or the Colline du Chateau, located at the Port and inspect the ruins and the cemetery where the car pioneer Emil Mercedes is buried. Enjoy the parkland area and the fountain or just take in the magnificent view across the Baie des Anges. Spectacular!
Or how about hiring one of the many Velo Bleu, pushbikes for a few hours? These ‘pay as you go’ bikes are available all round Nice, so take a ride along the entire Promenade and get a photo at the #I LOVE NICE sign for your Instagram! For walkers, there is a lovely hike to do along the rocky edge from Mont Boron to Villefranche and it is long and winding but has lovely views of the sea at every turn. Want to just relax and take in a movie one day/night? No problem! There are three cinemas in Nice which all offer English movies! Locations are: Pace Garibladi near the Port area, Rue Rivoli near the Hotel Negresco and Pathé cinema is located in Avenue Jean Medicin opposite Zara. [FYI: Pathé has a sweet shop next door as well and also a funky clothes shop called Colette so go crazy in both before or after the movie!]
SHOPPING: There’s nothing like a bit of retail therapy when you are on holiday and especially in Nice. Fantastic shops and boutiques can be found down every street and around every corner, no matter where you stay and the choices are endless. Big name brands such as Zara, Mango, H&M, Calezonia, Promod, Nike etc are all found in Avenue Jean Medicin. As are the fabulous department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Nicetoile. The whole of this pedestrian avenue is crammed with shops of all sorts and you can spend quite some time! Around the corner from the main square is Rue Messéna which is the next big walking street full to the brim with brand name and concept stores. The area of Carre d’Or, near Rue France and Avenue Verdun, is where the deluxe name boutiques live, such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, La Furla…you get the drift!
In the Port area near Rue Bonaparte you will find little boutiques to drool over and for antiques and something special and unique, I suggest spending some time at the market on Sunday located in Place Garibladi (Port) or on Monday in the Cours Saleya. For more artisan style shopping head to the Old Town and explore the stores down every beckoning street. [FYI: The big sales are on from July till August, so take an extra suitcase for shoes!]
For food shopping and groceries in general, don’t go past the giant Monoprix in Avenue Jean Medicin – it has EVERYTHING! There is also a smaller one near Place Garibladi and several small SPAR supermarkets dotted around. There is also a huge Casino near the airport ( told you) and one up past the Acropolis. Indulge in a cheap and romantic evening and buy up some of the fantastic French products and have a homemade dinner on your balcony! It is the best!
DAY TRIPS: Visiting Nice wouldn’t be be same without taking a day trip via bus/car or train to some of the stunning areas along the Côte d’Azur. Starting close by, take a drive or bus out to Villefranche sur Mer, the gorgeous little fishing village just past Nice which was once also the setting for the James Bond film, Never Say Never Again. Take a stroll around the picturesque Old Town with her pink, apricot and yellow traditional style buildings or have lunch by the marina. Find your way down to the little port near the dry docking station and grab a seafood lunch at my favourite local restaurant La Baleine Joyeuse (The Happy Whale). Seating is first in first serve so lining up is worth the wait! Have a swim or a picnic on the public beach and check out the cruise ships that have tourists flocking there every day!
Next favourite will be the town of Eze. This lovely place has a gorgeous historical village, a beach with funky restaurants such as Anjuna (www.anjunabay.com ) which in my opinion is the BEST and Fragonard perfumery. Even Bono from U2 has a house here! Winning! Check out some over the top real estate in St Jean Cap Ferrat where many of he rich and famous own summer villas, or just have a swim at Paloma Beach (yes, as in Picasso’s daughter who once lived near here). Keep going along the coast and see Monaco and don’t miss out on Menton the city of Lemons and Limoncello, which is the last part of France till the Italian border. It’s all wonderful! [FYI: You can catch the number 100 Bus from Nice near the Port and it takes you all the way there or you can stop off anywhere along the way!] Easy!
On the other side of Nice beginning from the airport, drive or train it out to Antibes which is marvellous! The hub for the super yacht community, it has a year round undercover fresh produce market and the Picasso Museum. On weekends, there is a market that sells everything from Italian linen clothing to baskets from Madagascar and here you can find some amazing pieces for very cheap prices. I adore all these style of markets and always find something special. Also check out the smaller towns next door of Golfe -Juan and Juan- les- Pins, an upmarket town filled with funky shops and restaurants and that also hosts a great jazz festival every summer. It was also home to Picasso for many years. After these, you can travel further afield to the ritzy glamour towns of Cannes and Saint Tropez for more ‘celeb spotting’!
FERRIES: Many people use Nice as stepping stone to catch the ferry over to the picturesque islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The Corsica Ferry Line is available to take either as a passenger or with your car or motorbike. Booking is available on line or directly from the Port and sleeping cabins are available if desired. Complete with a pool in which to refresh yourselves or just catch some rays or a snooze, a bar/restaurant and snack bar on board, it is a lovely leisurely way to reach the amazing, rocky beauty of Corsica in just a few hours or overnight. Moby Ferries will take you to Sardinia but I have not done this journey as yet! Next time hopefully!
Well, that concludes my rather long, intense and descriptive blog on the intricacies of Nice and her surrounding towns! I hope that this has tempted you to go one day and explore this stunning area in the south of France and that you too will fall head over heels in love with her just as much as I have! Bon Voyage!
…”The south of France is one of my favourite places in the world”…M.Ward
(Mine too M.Ward!)