Nice? Very much so. Jewel of the Cote d’Azure, this city is a stunner. Nestled on the glorious curve of the Bay of Angels, Nice is glamorous, graceful and uber cool. It’s also perfectly placed to explore this sought-after region. Life is never dull in la belle Nice, and that’s not just down to the year-round sunshine.
The buzzy old town is a disarray of cobbled streets, character-filled cafés, chocolate shops and quirky independent boutiques. It’s barely changed since the 1700s, and the joy is just to wander and see what happens. Cours Saleya is at the heart of the action, hosting a bustling flower market in the morning, and excellent people watching/posing/sun soaking opportunities in the afternoons and evenings.
The wide sweep of Promenade des Anglais stretches for seven kilometres along the front. On the town side it’s all elegant architecture, swanky hotels and luxury apartments. Rooftop bars are awash with the glitterati. Across the road, rollerblading grannies with poodles in tow sashay their way along the seafront. It’s pure Malibu with French attitude.
There’s plenty of art, culture, music and history to satisfy. Nice only became part of France in 1860, and is so close to the Italian border that you could pop there and back in a morning. The result is a mish-mash of cultural influences loved by artists including Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, both of whom have museums dedicated to their work. Top it off with imposing churches, an old port and a great live music scene, all in the shadow of the Alps, and you get an idea of the niceness of Nice.
We highly recommend a jump on the train to Monaco. It’s only 13 minutes, but the prettiest 13 minutes you’ll spend on public transport. It hugs the coast the whole way and deposits you in the uphill/downhill glitzy glam curiosity that is Monte Carlo. Casinos, superyachts, supermodels and achingly fashionable, it’s everything you could hope for. Bring moneyThe Alps
Nice isn’t just about the sea. It’s brilliantly placed at the bottom of the French Alps. A short drive from the city will have you heading up winding roads and into the hills, where you can stop off at any one of a number of dainty little villages for lunch and a good old gander at the view.Explore the coast
Head east from Nice and you quickly reach Italy, where sassy San Remo will welcome you with open arms. Head west, and Antibes and Cannes are both less than 45 minutes away. The coastline here is spectacular. Coves, sandy beaches, cliffs and snaking roads. The train is a great option. Either direction is an absolute winner.
Exploring NiceHit the beach
If you can’t find a nice bit of beach in Nice, there’s something wrong. Stretching for miles, there are 25 public and 15 private beaches. Don’t expect golden sands though, it’s golden pebble all the way. Private beaches take some of the sting out of it, with carpets leading to the sea, private lockers, loungers and cocktails on demand. But the Med view is spectacular wherever you end up.Fill up on culture
The Matisse and Chagall museums both have great collections from their respective artists. Near the old city is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art with works by Andy Warhol, Roy Liechenstein and many others. The Nice Fine Arts Museum has a vast collection of European art from the 16th to the 20th century. The city is also home to the St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, recognised as a national monument of France.Colline du Chateau
The hillside park of Colline du Chateau is a city greenspace chock full of pine trees, parkland and sparkling waterfalls. Once boasting an impregnable citadel that was dismantled by the soldiers of Louis XIV in 1706 (not entirely impregnable then), this is an especially magical place in the evening, when it is lit up. The views across the bay and the city are wonderful.
First and foremost is, bien sur, the salad Nicoise, described by Delia Smith as “one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented”. Praise doesn’t get much higher. Locals are huge fans of socca, a sort of big tasty pancake made from chickpea flour and olive oil, and pissalediere, onion pizza with anchovies. Accompany your grub with some vins de Bellet – sunshiney wines produced on the hills just outside the city. Perfectly Nicoise, in liquid form.Nice Restaurants
Cosmopolitan Nice has it all when it comes to eating out. Ultra-luxury top-of-the range restaurants? Tick. Seafront open-air dining? Tick. Tiny Nicoise restaurants jam packed with character and locals? Yes, that too. From Michelin star to street food, it’s all here for the taking. As you’d hope, the seafood in particular is extraordinary.
Nice has been a favourite of holidaymakers since the 19th century. The mixture of wonderful climate, chic nightlife, bubbly old town, dazzling sea and top-of-the-range luxury hotels and restaurants make it an appealing destination for everyone from young families to glamorous supermodels. It’s also brilliantly placed as a jumping off point for exploring the rest of the Cote d’Azure.
Nice has culture and history in spades, but it’s by no means stuck in the past, with brand new developments investing millions on re-invigorating the port area and parklands.
Nice will be low-key if that’s what you want, but if you want to rev the engine, then it’s a city that will be more than happy to oblige.
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