Sorry. I couldn’t help it. But now that I’ve got the ‘nice Nice’ joke / pun / abomination out of the way, let me start by admitting that I really wasn’t sure about a trip to Nice.
It was a last minute decision in September. My husband and I only had a week, and flights to Nice were cheap.
It was only after booking said flights that I began to worry a little. I don’t do ‘posh’ trips very well (I’m more of a ‘one spare t-shirt and a backpack’ kind of girl) and Nice, obviously, is at the heart of the French Riviera. In between Cannes and Monaco.
So, in other words, very posh indeed!
I began to think that it was just as well the flights were cheap, as we would need all our spare money just to exist for a week. I debated buying some new clothes and luggage – surely my usual warm weather wardrobe of sundress, bikini and very well-worn sandals wouldn’t cut it on the Riviera? And I worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford to enjoy the famous French food – a very important aspect of any trip, for both of us!
But, I am pleased to say, I was wrong!
In fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nice took me completely by surprise, in a wonderful way! It was fun and relaxed – more ‘cool Mediterranean’ than ‘uptight Riviera’. There were great bars and affordable restaurants, amazing architecture and, of course, a very blue, sparkling sea and lots of sunshine.
And when it comes to shopping, there really is something for everyone (as my credit card will attest – I lost all willpower in the streets of the Old Town). I don’t think you could cram everything that Nice has to offer into a few days, although I was feeling particularly lazy that week!
So, bearing that in mind, here are my Nice highlights:
Beautiful home-grown flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, fish, bread, pastries, herbs, soaps…..and a very talented ‘busker’ singing opera. This is the market on cours Saleya, just next to the Old Town of Nice. Tourists mix with the locals and the town’s chefs under brightly striped awnings – it gets very busy, so get there early for the best choice and fewer crowds. Even if you are staying in a hotel and can’t cook, it’s worth a wander just for the atmosphere, and if you’re self catering, like we did, it’s fantastic produce at very reasonable prices. On a Monday, the food and flowers are replaced by antiques and bric-a-brac.
Place Rosetti / Fenocchio’s
A Nice institution, Place Rosetti is the lively, relaxed heart of the Old Town, with beautiful church architecture, more buskers, and wonderful restaurants. The main draw, however, is Fenocchio’s, where more than 90 different flavors of ice cream and sorbet are sold all day (and most of the night). Classic coffee, chocolate, pistachio, and mint sit alongside beer, pina colada, violet, rose, and cactus. Choose either a cone or a tub, and be as adventurous as you like!
Wandering in the Old Town
The narrow, shady streets of the Old Town are where you really get a feel for the atmosphere of Nice. Stretching from Cours Saleya in the south to Place Garibaldi in the north, it’s a maze of tiny alleyways punctuated by Baroque churches and carved doorways, and what seemed like hundreds of traditional artisan shops selling everything from Marseilles soap to linen homeware to leather goods. Browsing is encouraged, with no pressure to buy, so take your time and forget the street map. There’s no better place to get lost. And if all that shopping makes you hungry, you can always stop at one of the many food stalls and pick up a slice of socca – a very thin, fried chickpea pancake that is a specialty of Nice.
The Colline du Château was the heart of medieval Nice. Nothing remains of the castle itself, but the walk up the hill is worth it for the fantastic views over the Bay and the town to the mountains beyond. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset – and cooler, as the hill is quite steep!
The Old Port
This is the departure point for ferries to Corsica as well as the yachting marina. And some of the yachts are, well -- WOW. Most of them would look at home in a James Bond movie. There are also some fantastic fish restaurants on the eastern quay – a good place to sit outside with a glass of something and daydream about owning one (or plan a purchase, depending on your budget).
Promenade des Anglais
And the beach. Or beaches, to be more correct. Nice is built around a curved bay, the Baie des Anges, and the Promenade des Anglais runs the length of the bay from the edge of the Old Town in the east to the airport in the west. The Promenade was originally built as an employment exercise, when an Englishman, the Reverend Lewis Way, opened a public subscription to build a new footpath along the shore. It is still a wonderful place to walk and people-watch, and admire the Art Deco facades of the grand hotels that once symbolised Nice (and still do, to a certain extent). Most famous is probably the Hotel Negresco, with its pink and green frontage.
There are fifteen beach concessions as well as public beaches, and it’s all very laid back and relaxed. If you get bored of lying on a towel or sun lounger – and you will need one or the other as the beach is pebble rather than sand – you can try various watersports or beach volleyball. I never did try the water parachuting, but it’s on the list for next time……
Travel tip shared by Alice Shevlin