Nice is arguably one of the most glorious places on earth. Luxury waterfront hotels front the palm tree-lined Promenade des Anglais; beyond is the pebble beach dotted with clusters of nautical-coloured beach umbrellas shading the cocktail-sipping well-heeled. Handsome high flyers and ageing lotharios cruise the streets in shiny, open-top convertibles. Pouting lips, pert bodies and enhanced boobs are de rigeur. But so too are everyday local folk mingling with tourists of all ages and walks of life soaking up the sunshine.
The capital of the Côte d’Azur, Nice has been the sought-after retreat for the European elite since the 19th century. Fast forward to the 21st century, this cosmopolitan hot-spot has plenty on offer. If possible, spend a week there; if time is limited to two-days in Nice these are the top picks.
Take the plunge, walk the walk.
The Promenade des Anglais beachside boardwalk is the best place to start. Stretching for 7km from the airport on the west to the Quai des États-Unis (United States Quay) on the east, the vast paved promenade has a dedicated lane for cyclists and skaters. If time permits and you’re feeling energetic, hire a bike and cycle the distance.
The beach isn’t sandy from the shore to the water’s edge. It’s mainly pebbles but they’re smooth and tolerable. For sensitive or tender feet, shoes would be advisable. There are sandy spots too if desired, but the best sunbathing venues are the private beaches.
There are 15 private beaches and prices vary depending on the facilities requested. The cost can run into tens of euros: price of entry (admission), lounge chair, sunshade, locker and so on. Your starting point is about €14 for a lounge chair, umbrella with towel add €4. Bringing food onto the beach is not allowed; each private beach pertains to a specific restaurant or hotel. They are easily recognised as they are fenced off from public beaches and their area clearly defined.
Each beach has its own selling points. My favourites were Beau Rivage (you don’t have to be a guest at Hotel Beau, but you will be required to pay admission and for the use of the beach facilities), Ruhl Plage (just across the road from Le Meridien), Lido Plage (located in front of Palais de la Mediterranee), Blue Beach and Neptune Plage (both located in front of the famous Hotel Le Negresco). Some private beaches boast swimming pools for the children but take note, around mid-October you may find they are empty.
Beach prices vary. Some charge separately for a lounge chair, umbrella, towel. Others will charge one fee, for example, a lounge chair and umbrella.
Nice Tourism has an excellent link to the beaches which will help you in decided which one is right for you. http://www.nice-tourism.com/en/nice-attractions/beaches-in-nice/private-beaches-in-nice.html
Head to the heart for local produce.
Walk the labyrinth of cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways and small piazzas Vielle Ville (Old Town) and discover a ‘little Italy’ ambience. It’s here in the heartland of Nice wonderful discoveries are guaranteed. Bounded by wide, spacious boulevards Jardin Albert 1, Place Masséna and Promendade du Paillon, the Old Town is home to Cours Saleya market where fresh fish and local produce such as Nice olives, sheep’s cheese, and mushroom provide the staples for Mediterranean cuisine of the Côte d’Azur. The flower market adds the finishing touch to a wonderful shopping experience for the gourmand.
Public spaces for all seasons.
Even in the cooler months, the desire to catch a quick respite doesn’t escape the tired traveller. Beautiful spaces include expansive gardens between Avenue des Phocéens and Avenue de Verdun extending north to Place Masséna with its spectacular fountain Fontaine du Soleil with the statue of Apollo, the Greek Sun God as its centrepiece. Surrounded by palm and pine trees, the open-air Théâtre de Verdure (Jardin Albert 1) provides a popular outdoor venue for concerts and festivals during spring-summer.
A standout for weary bodies is the Promenade du Paillon. Wander the promenade and you’ll discover the mist plateau, an aquatic space in Albert 1er garden, near Place Masséna. Described as “a natural stone pavement of basalt and limestone and its fog”, put simply, it is a 1.4 square flat surface equipped with nozzles that allows fine droplets of water to sprinkle overhead; it’s like walking underneath a hose on ‘shower spray’ setting. Lots of fun for everyone. On the other side of Place Masséna is a vast ‘water mirror’ lake which is reminiscent of the Miroir d’eau (the world’s largest reflecting pool) in Bordeaux.
Tram travel alleviates grisly gridlock.
A single-line tramway can take you from one end of town to the other in around 17 minutes. Another line follows close behind. Cost is less than a couple of euros. Payment by microchip credit card or coin. Depending how long you are staying in Nice consider the 10-trip ticket for about €10. The tram comes every 3-5 minutes; every 12-20minutes at night until around 1am. No need to signal your stop as the trams stops automatically at every stop.
Shop till you drop.
Nice is full of shops. Markets offers product that is local produced and unique to Nice but the retail boutiques also provide a generous selection of global, European and French brands. The tram runs along main shopping strip Avenue Jean Medecin where the usual suspects can be found: Galéries Lafayette and Nice Etoile Shopping Mall, Monoprix supermarket and Zara.
Cours Saleya has three markets: the Marche aux Fleurs (flower market) Tuesday to Sunday, the antique/flea market on Mondays, and from June to September the art and craft market can found. Double check when the antique market is on as they’re usually held only on a Monday. The second-hand book market is held on the first and third Saturday of the month at Place du Palais.
For further details http://www.nice-tourism.com/en/shopping-in-nice.html
A car in Nice could drive you mad.
What does come as a surprise is the difficulty in accessing a hotel that is located smack in the centre of the ‘old city’. The traffic is relatively thick, a greater proportion of the roads are one-way, and if you’re not accustomed to left-hand drive cars and driving on the right-hand side of the road, the route from A to B can be discombobulating, to say the least!
Driving around the ‘old city’ is a major headache. Like many smaller European cities, access is often limited but able to be negotiated if your GPS gives you the correct directions. Word of caution: Double check your directions before taking off. During our time in Nice we found the GPS recommended a route that wasn’t accessible by vehicle as it had been converted into a pedestrian walkway peppered with lively bistros and bars. When we did find a street to try to exit our way out of a dead-end we battled bollards and had to drive the wrong-way down a one-way street.
When booking, do ask for clear communication as to your accommodation location!
Go for old, its gold.
When travelling, we usually prefer to book in the old town of a city because it affords you ease of access to the main tourist spots. From a central place you can then wander off into the back streets to discover cheap eating, local culture and mix with the locals.
Our accommodation in Nice was central but not easy to find. We stayed at Hôtel Rossetti, number 1, rue Sainte Réparte which is a little pedestrian street right next to Place Rossetti square and the Nice Cathedral. www.hotelrossetti.fr Admittedly, we did have trouble finding it on foot as the hotel is not clearly marked. We asked around and finally, in desperation, asked a girl in a sumptuous candy shop (La Cure Gourmande) if she knew where the hotel was? She looked at us, smiled, and pointed directly opposite her shop. We had walked past the hotel’s front door several times without evening knowing it. Rule of thumb: printed out the clear map on the hotel’s website and follow their instructions. Value for money Hotel Rossetti is gold. The accommodation spartan, contemporary and clean; excellent value for its location too.