By: Elissa Richard
Situated on the southeastern coast of France, the fabled French Riviera has long enticed sun worshipers with its seaside charm, vibrant vegetation, beautiful people, and mild Mediterranean climate promising some 300 cloudless days a year. And while laid-back Nice, the region’s long-reigning queen and capital, has continued to evoke images of well-heeled vacationers lounging along the shore by day and hobnobbing at elegant eateries by night, this city by the sea is no longer an exclusive playground for the fabulously wealthy. In fact, Nice has developed into one of the French Riviera’s most affordable destinations, a lively commercial center that not only makes a fantastic base for exploring the region’s many wonders, but that reaches out to all holiday-seekers as an engrossing destination in its own right.
Nice is the fifth-largest city in France, yet it attracts more than ten times its population annually – some four million visitors who come not only to experience beaches bathed in unobstructed sunshine, but for the diverse concentration of museums, cultural attractions, and architectural delights. City quarters flaunt a mix of Roman ruins, Victorian villas, and belle époque edifices that stand in testimony to Nice’s storied past as a major Mediterranean crossroads – indeed, the city is just 20 miles from the Italian border, making a side trip to Italy within easy reach. Even the long-abiding affections of the international jet set cannot overshadow the quiet pockets of Provençal life that unfold here – the Niçois are known to savor life’s simple pleasures, maintaining a leisurely pace of life that allows for regular indulgence in the city’s ubiquitous café culture and enjoying late-afternoon aperitifs of pastis (a favorite anise-flavored liqueur) followed by unhurried strolls along the coastline.
If you find yourself with just three days in Nice, spend at least one of them sauntering along the coastal Promenade des Anglais, and, if the season’s right, enjoying the azure waters of the Baie des Anges from an upscale private beach. Don’t miss ambling through the ancient streets of Vieille Ville, Nice’s historic core, where shops, restaurants, bars, and a hodgepodge of architectural highlights compete for your attention – and be sure to enjoy an al fresco nightcap on the quarter’s animated Cours Saleya. Climb atop Le Château for some stellar views over the city and sea, and be sure to ogle the collections of at least one of Nice’s fantastic museums. Five days is considerably more ideal, allowing time to factor in some side trips to glamorous nearby resorts like Monte Carlo or Cannes. You could also spend some time exploring the lavish villas and ancient Roman ruins in Nice’s swanky Cimiez quarter, and indulging in quintessential Riviera opulence with dinner (or just a drink) at the renowned Hotel Negresco followed by a date with Lady Luck at the Le Ruhl Casino. One week will allow even more time to relax at the beaches, experience a more thorough sampling of Nice’s wealth of museums, cafés, and shops, or venture further along the Côte d’Azur to quaint cliff-top villages like those at Eze or St-Paul-de-Vence.
Nice is set between the soft curve of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and the sheltering inland foothills of the French Alps, 560 miles south of Paris. With an exotic terrain dotted by citrus and olive groves, mimosa, cacti, palm trees, and eucalyptus, this fine slice of real estate has long garnered international interest – from the ancient Greeks and Romans who staked claims here to the tide of 19th century English and Russian aristocrats who poured in to claim Nice as their fashionable winter retreat. American globetrotters soon followed, deeming summer their season of choice. The city has also been the inspiration for countless artists; two of the most famous, Chagall and Matisse, left their own legacy through their prolific works while based in Nice, highlights of which are displayed in their namesake museums.
The last half-century has seen Nice cater to a decidedly more middle-class traveler by exploiting its relative bargains over other chic Riviera resort towns and touting itself as a great base for further exploration along the coast – in good traffic, such revered seaside hotspots as Cannes and Monaco are within a 30-to 40-minute drive.
Visitors will spend much of their time along the Promenade des Anglais, dubbed “La Prom” by locals, a wide seafront boulevard that contours the bay for some four miles, providing access to the beaches, open air cafés, high-end hotels, and casinos. The eastern edge of the Promenade, known as Quai des Etats-Unis, serves as a buffer between the narrow, atmospheric streets of Vieux Nice (Old Nice, also referred to as Vieille Ville) and the sea. The towering rock known as Le Château, or Castle Hill, caps this road, site of the city’s ancient Greek settlement and a long-demolished medieval castle, and finally, the animated, Italianesque port. Further inland, the affluent residential neighborhood of Cimiez in northeast Nice hosts some fantastic museums and maintains an aristocratic air.
These main tourist areas, excluding Cimiez, are fairly compact – hotels in downtown Nice are no further than a 10-minute walk to the Promenade. Public buses are available, a new tourist-friendly tramway is due in fall 2007, and taxis can easily be arranged from your hotel or hailed from designated stands about the city. Driving should be reserved for ventures outside of the downtown area, as the city is truly best explored on foot and parking garages can be pricey. The Promenade is delightful to explore via bike – rentals can be arranged near the main train station at Nicea Location Rent (12 Rue de Belgique; 04-93-82-42-71; 5€/hour,18€/day; www.nicealocationrent.com), which also rents out mopeds (57€/day), a common mode of transportation in Nice.
Double-decker, open-top bus tours with English commentary can be arranged through Nice Le Grand Tour (Promenade des Anglais in front of the Beau Rivage beach; departures every 30 min from 9.30am-6.30pm; 04-92-29-17-00; 18€ for one-day pass; www.nicelegrandtour.com), which features hop-on, hop-off service with 11 stops throughout the city. You can also take a 40-minute city tour on the Little Tourist Train (Promenade des Anglais in front of Jardin Albert 1er; departures every 30 min, daily Jun-Aug 10am-7pm, Sep-Dec and Apr-May 10am-6pm, Jan-Mar 10am-5pm; 06/16-39-53-51; 6.50€; www.petittrainnice.com) – these miniature “trains” take to the pavement to hit up sights like the Cours Saleya, Castle Hill, and the Promenade des Anglais. The Nice Convention Visitors Bureau offers weekly 2.5-hour walking tours (in French and English) focused on Old Nice’s history and architecture (Nice Visitors Bureau, 5 Promenade des Anglais; Saturdays 9.30am; 08-92-70-74-07; 12€).
Visitors coming to Nice in the name of sun and surf are often pleasantly surprised to discover that the city is second only to Paris in the number of museums and galleries it houses – 19 in all. If you opt to ditch the beaches for the masterpieces, be sure to pick up a Carte Musées Ville de Nice (purchase at museums or at the Nice CVB; 6€) that provides admission to all city-run museums for one week (note that the Musée Chagall and Musée des Arts Asiatiques museums are excluded).
For event information, general sightseeing advice, and hotel-booking assistance, contact the Nice Convention and Visitors Bureau (5 Promenade des Anglais; June-Sept Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 9am-6pm; Oct-May Mon-Sat 9am-6pm; 08/92-70-74-07; www.nicetourism.com), located near Jardin Albert 1er. Additional outposts are located at the airport (June-Sept daily 8am-9pm; Oct-May Mon-Sat 8am-9pm) and at the main rail station (June-Sept Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 9am-7pm; Oct-May 8am-7p Mon-Sat, Sun 10am-5pm). The Regional Committee of Tourism Riviera Côte d'Azur (www.guideriviera.com) is another handy resource for regional information.
Promenade des Anglais & Beaches
Wide and well landscaped, the four-mile-long Promenade des Anglais is perfect for biking, alfresco dining, strolling, or people watching from one of the ubiquitous blue chairs that line the waterfront. Dominating the skyline near the center of the thoroughfare, the majestic neoclassical palace Hotel Negresco (37 Promenade des Anglais) has been a quintessential symbol of the opulent French Riviera lifestyle since 1912. Peep in and check out the hotel’s famous Salon Royal with its glass dome and magnificent Baccarat chandelier (see Where to Stay).
Most summer visitors are intent on swimming in the pristine waters of the Baie des Anges. A couple dozen beaches, both public and private, stretch along the Promenade des Anglais. But don’t expect to build a sandcastle – these beaches are comprised of smooth pebbles, leading some beachgoers to wear water sandals. Though free, public beaches are usually crowded and offer no amenities; instead, we recommend splurging on entry to a private beach (from 10€/day) where you’ll not only get a chaise lounge (a near necessity if you plan on spending any amount of time on the pebbly shores) as well as parasols, showers, changing rooms, waterfront restaurants, bar service, and, on occasion, water sports rentals. The centrally-located Neptune Plage (across from Hotel Negresco; 04-93-87-16-60) has extras like a children’s swimming pool, while Castel Plage (8 Quai des Etats-Unis; 04-93-85-22-66) at the eastern edge of the Baie des Anges, boasts dramatic cliffs as a backdrop and tends to be less crowded. Note that topless sunbathing is the norm in the south of France, so leave your inhibitions behind.
If water sports are on your agenda, waterskiing, parasailing, and windsurfing can be easily arranged through outfits like Nikaia Water Sports (btwn Beau Rivage and Opéra Plage; 06-09-16-02-16; from 20€; www.nikaiaglisse.com). Jet-skiing is available exclusively through Jet Evasion (Plage de Carras; 06/98-10-50-62; from 30€; www.jetevasion06.com) on Plage de Carras. Scuba diving for beginning and experienced divers alike is offered at the Centre International de Plongée de Nice (2 Ruelle des Moulins; 04-93-55-59-50; from 30€; www.cip-nice.com).
Vieux Nice & Castle Hill
The Promenade des Anglais turns into the Quai des Etats-Unis on its eastern end, where it is dominated by a rocky hill known as Le Château, named for a castle torn down some three centuries ago. This lofty ledge also provided the setting for the ancient Greek settlement of Nikaïa, from which Nice derives its name.
Scattered ancient ruins peek through the rich flora of the Parc du Château (Jun-Aug 9am-8pm, Apr-May and Sep 9am-7pm, Oct-Mar 10am-5.30pm; 04-93-85-62-33), a public park that spills over from the imposing hilltop and is accessible by elevator for a small fee (.80€ one-way; 1.10€ round-trip) near the Bellanda Tower at the eastern end of Quai des Etats-Unis, or via steps from Vieux Nice. Once on top, it’s all about the views! Wander to the eastern side and enjoy scenic vistas over the massive yachts and tiny fishing boats in the Italian-flavored port of Nice, a pleasant place to stroll with good-value dining options. The southwestern side of the park is even more picturesque, with views over the Mediterranean melding into the orange-hued rooftops of the buildings, their protruding balconies each striving to catch a glimpse of the sea. Once you’ve had enough of the views, follow the sound of rushing water to the artificial waterfall a level below the park's summit – bathing in its mist is a terrifically refreshing way to spend a warm summer day.
Continue down the stairwell from the waterfall (or head back to the elevator) to reach the narrow, picturesque streets of the Vieille Ville, the city’s historic core stretching west from Le Château to Place Masséna. The pedestrian-friendly alleys (some closed to automobiles) are lined with pastel yellow- and ochre-colored buildings with Italianate facades and sienna-tiled roofs. It’s a great neighborhood to sample traditional Niçoise dishes like ratatouille, socca, or pissaladière (see Where to Eat), or to savor a pastis after a long day of sight-seeing.
One of our favorite areas in Old Nice, Cours Saleya (two blocks north of Quai des Etats-Unis) is a pedestrian thoroughfare marked by lively outdoor cafés and Marché aux Fleurs, a bustling market selling flowers and fresh produce (See Where to Shop).
On the northern edge of Cours Saleya, the Chapelle de la Miséricorde marks one of the city’s finest examples of baroque architecture. Dating to 1740, the structure boasts a lovely gold edifice and an extravagant interior with frescoes, chandeliers, faux marble, and a Bréa altarpiece. Old Nice’s narrow streets turn up several more excellent baroque-influenced buildings, including one of the city’s oldest churches, Eglise St-Martin/ St-Augustin (Place Saint-Augustin), which although dates from 1405, was later updated with a fantastic baroque interior; the 17th-century Cathédrale Ste-Réparate, dedicated to the patron saint of Nice (Place Rossetti); and the expansive 17th-century Eglise du Gésu (Rue Droite).
A great example of non-religious baroque architecture, the 17th-century Palais Lascaris (15 Rue Droite; Wed-Mon 10am-6pm; 04-93-62-72-40; free) is a Genoan-style aristocratic palace-turned-museum with an elaborate vaulted staircase ascending around an inner courtyard and into tapestry-filled staterooms; an apothecary shop from 1738 is on display on the ground floor.
Just west of Old Nice and bordering the Promenade des Anglais, the splendid Jardin Albert Ier unfolds. This park is an oasis of flowers, palm trees, fountains, sculptures – including the immense L’Arc by Bernar Venet – and even an old-fashioned merry-go-round. To the north of the gardens is the bustling commercial center of Place Masséna, marking the heart of the city and framed by Italian-style arcade buildings centered around a large bronze fountain, Fontaine du Soleil. A few blocks northwest, the 18th-century square at Place Garibaldi marks the transition from historic Old Nice to the newer part of the city. (Note that construction work on the new tramway is prevalent on the two squares, and won’t be wrapped up until fall 2007).
Adjacent to Place Garibaldi, the bold architecture of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Promenade des Arts; Tue-Sun, 10am-6pm; 04-97-13-42-01; 4€; www.mamac-nice.org) features a quartet of marble towers connected by glass passageways that overlook a concourse with outdoor sculptures; the collection of French and American art spans the ’60s to the present. On the same plaza, take notice of the architecturally daring Louis Nucéra Library (2 Place Yves Klein; 04 97 13 48 00; www.bmvr-nice.com.fr), a cube-shaped building designed to recall a human head.
Though you can’t easily walk to them, two central Nice attractions are worth a short taxi ride. The magnificent Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe St-Nicolas (Ave Nicolas II; May-Sept daily 9-noon & 2.30-6pm, Oct & mid-Feb-April 9.15am-noon & 2.30-5pm, Nov-mid-Feb 9.30am-noon & 2.30-5pm; services held Sunday morning; 04-93-96-88-02; 2.50€; www.acor-nice.com) is a testimony to the once sizeable community of Russian aristocrats who wintered here. Built at the beginning of the 20th century (Tsar Nicholas II himself was the benefactor), the Byzantine-style masterpiece is capped with six onion-shaped domes. Further west, the Musée des Beaux-Arts (33 Ave des Baumettes; Tue-Sun 10am-6pm; 04-92-15-28-28; 4€; www.musee-beaux-arts-nice.org) boasts an impressive fine arts collection in a truly regal setting – the 19th-century Italianate mansion of a Ukrainian princess.
Just a few of miles north of Nice’s city center is the affluent residential quarter of Cimiez – you’ll need transportation (taxis and several buses – including lines 15 and 17 – make the trip), but once here most of the attractions are within easy walking distance of one another. This posh hilltop suburb was the winter home of Queen Victoria and a large group of aristocrats, whose lavish villas define the landscape today. Long before the English entourage arrived, however, Cimiez was known as Cemenelum, an important settlement of ancient Rome with notable ruins of public baths and an amphitheater at the Arènes de Cimiez, (Place de Cimiez) home of the annual Nice Jazz Festival. The Archeological Museum (160 Rue des Arènes; Wed-Mon 10am-6pm; 04-93-81-59-57; 3.80€) here displays ceramics, coins, jewelry, tools, and other objects extracted from local digs.
Next door, the renowned Musée Matisse (164 Ave des Arènes de Cimiez; Wed-Mon, 10am-6pm; 04-93-81-08-08; 4€; www.musee-matisse-nice.org) features paintings, sculptures, gouache cutouts, and more by French artist Henri Matisse, who lived in Nice for much of the last four decades of his life. The collection is housed in a light-bathed 17th-century villa; allow at least an hour.
Nearby, the Monastère de Cimiez, a working monastery where several Franciscan friars still live, features the Musée Franciscain (Place du Monastère; Mon-Sat 10am-noon & 3-6pm; 04-93-81-00-04; free) that traces the history of the Franciscan order and showcases three masterpieces by gothic Niçois painter Louis Bréa. The adjacent Jardin du Monastère overflows with colorful rose gardens, wooden trellises, fruit trees, and fountains. Peer over the serene park’s perimeters for some lovely views of the city below, or climb up the stone steps for an amble through a secluded wooded area, worlds away from the hordes of downtown tourists.
Return via taxi or bus to the foot of the Cimiez hill, a few blocks east of Gare SNCF Nice-Ville (the train station) to reach the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (36 Ave Docteur Ménard; July-Sept Wed-Mon 10am-6pm, Oct-June Wed-Mon10am-5pm; 04-93-53-87-20; 6.50€; www.musee-chagall.fr), which features late works by the Russian-born artist, including 17 biblical scenes on large canvases, as well as brightly hued stained-glass windows. The natural light-filled museum space, coupled with surrounding gardens and pools, makes for a superb viewing experience; allot at least an hour.
Nice lays claim to more than a third of the total hotel capacity in the region, translating to relative bargains over other Riviera resort towns and a tourism infrastructure that’s well equipped to accommodate the steady flow of tourists. Finding an oceanfront room, or at least one boasting a Mediterranean view, is an entirely attainable feat; just be sure to book well in advance, particularly during the busy summer months and during the Carnival season. Good values and intimate settings can be found further inland if you’re willing to venture off the beaten track. That said, some 10,000 rooms in nearly 200 hotels are spread about Nice proper – here's our quick pick of some of the best high-end, moderate, and budget lodgings to call home during your stay.
A natural top pick for luxury lodging, the glamorous, pink-domed Hotel Negresco (37 Promenade des Anglais; 04-93-16-64-00; www.hotel-negresco-nice.com) is the grand dame of the Riviera. This palatial seaside property, nearly a century old, features a decadent décor of fine European antiques, tapestries, and valuable works of art. Rooms are individually decorated, with themes of French history, art, or music; the most impressive feature balconies overlooking the Negresco’s private beach, Neptune Plage. For unparalleled views over the eastern tip of Baie des Anges, Hotel La Perouse (11 Quai Rauba-Capéu; 04-93-62-34-63; www.hotel-la-perouse.com), a former prison, is built into the hillside of Le Château (accessible by elevator); its spacious rooms, many with terraces, are defined by provençal fabrics and antiques, while the hotel pool, with its sundeck and sauna, offer even more reason to stick around. If cutting-edge contemporary is more your speed, the avant-garde Hi Hotel (3 Ave des Fleurs; 04-97-07-26-26; www.hi-hotel.net) is a super-mod attempt to redefine standards of luxury. Located a few blocks inland, just north of the Hotel Negresco, the futuristic Hi boasts a fantastic rooftop terrace replete with pool, waterbeds, and stellar city views.
Moderate picks include the friendly, family-run Hotel Windsor (11 Rue Dalpozzo; 04-93-88-59-35; www.hotelwindsornice.com) with its 57 one-off, art-inspired rooms and a top floor boasting a fitness area and steam room; bonuses include an exotic outdoor garden and pool and a location within walking distance from the Promenade. Another fine lodging choice is Le Grimaldi (15 Rue Grimaldi; 04-93-16-00-24; www.le-grimaldi.com), comprised of two beautiful belle époque edifices that share an inner courtyard. Situated in central Nice between the beach and train station, this stylish property offers a contemporary interior; rooms on the upper levels are particularly luminous and offer views over the rooftops of Nice. We also like the centrally located Hotel Gounod (3 Rue Gounod; 04-93-16-42-00; www.gounod-nice.com), which offers easy access to shops, beaches, and the train station from an atmospheric residential neighborhood. Rooms are clean and functional, but the real draw here is that rates include entrée to the rooftop swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and fitness facilities of the luxurious (and much higher-priced) Hotel Splendid, just next door.
There are a fair number of budget hotel choices in Nice. Our recommendations include the Hotel L’Oasis (23 Rue Gounod; 04-93-88-12-29; www.hotel-oasis.net), a few blocks northwest of Place Massena. Rooms are on the small side, but are well maintained and include handy amenities like in-room fridges. Enjoy continental breakfast (included in the rate) under the fig and palm trees of the courtyard. The charming, family-run Hôtel de la Buffa (56 Rue de la Buffa; 04-93-88-77-35; www.hotel-buffa.com) is another smart choice, located just a stone’s throw from the Promenade des Anglais and its beaches. Several of the 13 bright and well-proportioned rooms can accommodate families and parties of four; double-glazed windows ensure a good night’s sleep. Finally, the top-rated Villa Saint-Exupéry (22 Ave Gravier; 04-93-84-42-83; www.vsaint.com), set amid an old monastery and gardens, is the ultimate in hostel lodging. Though about two miles from the city center, beds in this 240-room, all-ages hostel (sub-divided into single, double, and dormitory rooms) start at just 24 euros; and with perks like buffet breakfast and free Internet access, it’s more than worth the travel time – besides, several buses make nearby stops. The 24-hour common room is set amidst the stained glass of a former chapel, where late night drinks (priced from just one euro!) are best enjoyed with fellow travelers.
Nice, like the rest of France, takes food seriously, resulting in a local cuisine that is tirelessly prepared, meticulously presented, and thoroughly satisfying. The city’s Mediterranean locale translates to a sun-drenched diet rich in olive oil, seafood, and fresh vegetables, and seasoned with a wide variety of herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, coriander, and garlic. Some not-to-miss Niçoise specialities include salade Niçoise, a salad of raw vegetables mixed with a hard-boiled egg, anchovies, tuna, black olives, and olive oil; pissaladière, an onion pizza covered in black olives and anchovies; ratatouille, a mix of peppers, eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, fried in olive oil and served either hot or cold; and socca, a large pancake made of chickpea flour and olive oil, cooked in a wood-burning stove and served with black pepper. Plan to accompany at least one meal with locally produced wine from the Bellet vineyards, situated in the alpine hillsides around Nice. Keep in mind that the finest eateries command reservations well in advance.
For the ultimate in haute-cuisine, Hotel Negresco’s Michelin-starred Le Chantecler (37 Promenade des Anglais; 04-93-16-64-00; www.hotel-negresco-nice.com) specializes in seafood and Mediterranean cuisine (with a menu that rotates almost weekly). Much-respected current chef Bruno Turbot turns out dishes like blue lobster cooked with socca, beans, lemon, and thyme, or veal cutlet garnished with a green vegetable risotto; tasting menus are also available. We highly recommend L’Ane Rouge (7 Quai des Deux-Emmanuels; 04-93-89-49-63; www.anerougenice.com) as one of the city’s best seafood restaurants, situated in an atmospheric antique building right on the port of Nice, which makes for fresh-catch dishes like wild sea bass, hake, and lobster, with sides like truffled macaroni, green herbs gnocchi, or onion chutney; traditional Provençal bouillabaisse, a fish stew originating from Marseilles, is also on the menu. Another stupendous eatery, on the eastern end of the port, is Michelin-starred Jouni - Atelier du Goût (60 Bd Franck Pilatte, Palais de la Réserve, 04-97-08-14-80; www.jouni.fr), starring Finnish chef Jouni Tormanen’s sensational takes on seafood plates, which highlight seemingly simple, yet divinely prepared grilled fish platters seasoned with nothing but the basics of olive oil, sea salt, lemons, or an occasional splash of vinegar. The fresh factor is what sets this “Workshop of Taste,” as the restaurant name translates to, apart, with a market-driven menu which changes daily. However, regular treks to the markets of Italy’s San Remo ensure the consistent appearance of the delectable La Pâche de San Remo a la plancha – grilled San Remo catch of the day, accompanied by a savory mix of red mullet, red shrimp, and octopus. Lunch tasting menus are available from 30 euros; dinner tasting menus start at 65 euros.
A fine choice for mid-range dining is the cozy Don Camillo (5 Rue des Ponchettes; 04-93-85-67-95). Situated just off of Cours Saleya, this restaurant with about 10 tables is known for its attention to both cuisine and service. Expect authentic Niçoise cooking represented through a seasonal rotating menu – pasta fans delight in the "borsotti de Mémé Emma," a family ravioli recipe, and the somewhat unexpected sushi bar add-on receives rave reviews. Also noteworthy is the small and elegant La Merenda (4 Rue de la Terrasse, no telephone). It’s closed weekends, doesn’t accept credit cards, and doesn’t even have a phone – but its reputation for delectably prepared Provençal specialties still reels in the crowds to this unpretentious cellar-cum-bistro. The menu – orchestrated by master chef Dominque Le Stanc (formerly of Le Chantecler) – changes daily to reflect only the freshest market ingredients; expect fare like sea bass, truffles, oxtail, and stuffed sardines. We also recommend venturing under the arches of Place Garibaldi to Le Grand Café de Turin (5 Place Garibaldi; 04-93-62-29-52; www.cafedeturin.com), a landmark eatery for more than a century and known for its traditional hearty platters of grilled fish and coquillage (raw shellfish). Try to grab a seat on the superb terrace, and be sure to save room for the mouth-watering pastries and ice cream.
Old Nice and the areas surrounding the port are good bet to find quick, inexpensive bites, like at Nissa Socca (7 Rue Sainte-Réparate; 04-93-80-18-35) or Chez Pipo (13 Rue Bavastro; 04-93-55-88-82), local favorites where you can indulge in socca and other Niçoise specialties accompanied by inexpensive carafes of wine. Le Bistrot de Vieux Nice (8 Rue du Marché; 04-93-13-45-01; www.bistrotduvieuxnice.com) is another reliable choice, particularly for its budget-conscious, three-course, prix-fixe menu of Mediterranean fare from just 17 euros.
Nice boasts some of the most happening nightlife along the Côte d’Azur. Kick off your evening with an aperitif at an outdoor café – some of the more lively sections of the city in which to indulge include Cours Saleya and its surrounding Vieux Nice, and the slightly more subdued but fantastically located beachfront Promenade des Anglais.
If you’re intent on a night of dancing, start off at the stylish Le Before (18 Rue des Congrès; 04-93-87-85-59), a popular aperitif bar that caters to a sophisticated “before-clubbing” crowd with lounge and club music. It’s ideally situated for a follow-up at L'Ambassade (18 Rue du Congrès; 04-93-88-88-87), where attractive crowds dress to the nines to wiggle past the restrictive door and into the party. Trendy 20- and 30-somethings also pour into L’Odace (29 Rue Alphonse Karr; 06-26-42-24-85; www.odace-club.com), formerly Le Grand Escurial. Sleek Asian-accented décor fills out this largest dance club in Nice, which packs in more than a thousand revelers who come to dance to the mixes of resident DJs who spin everything from House to Latin. One of the hottest gay clubs in town is the double-decker Blue Boy (9 Rue Jean-Baptiste Spinetta; 04-93-44-68-24; www.blueboy.fr), a Riviera institution known for its cutting edge music and popular theme nights.
For a sophisticated lounge, head straight to the swanky Le Relais (37 Promenade des Anglais; 04-93-16-64-00; www.hotel-negresco-nice.com) in the Hotel Negresco, the next best thing to splurging on a room here. Savor the decadence of the legendary hotel and the glamour of the Riviera while being served by white-jacketed waiters and serenaded by piano music in the museum-quality bar, with its Oriental carpets, tapestries, velvet touches, and fine furnishings.
If you’re craving a casual evening out in the company of fellow Anglophones, Old Nice is chockfull of popular bars that cater to the English-speaking crowd. Wayne’s (15 Rue de la Préfecture; 04-93-13-46-99; www.waynes.fr) tops the list as a regular host for live bands and wide-screen sports telecasts, as well as a Sunday karaoke night. Other reliable haunts, particularly popular with young, international crowds, include O'Neill's Irish Pub (40 Rue Droite; 04-93-80-05-75) with its welcoming Irish and live music, and the Scandinavian-themed Thor (32 Cours Saleya; 04-93-62-49-90; www.thor-pub) with its superlative open-air terrace on the Cours Saleya and tempting happy-hour specials (think all-you-can-drink wine for the ladies for just 3 euros on Tuesdays).
The Italian-style Opéra de Nice (4-6 Rue St-François-de-Paule; in season Sept-June; box office Mon-Thu, Sat 9am-6pm, Fri 9am-8pm; 04-92-17-40-00; 8€-85€; www.opera-nice.org), meanwhile, is the major cultural venue along the Riviera, with large-scale operas, symphonies, ballets, and concerts commanding the stage at this fine Charles Garnier-designed (architect of the Opera Garnier in Paris) venue.
Of the two casinos in town, we prefer the classy Le Ruhl Casino (1 Promenade des Anglais; Fri-Sun 10am-5am, Mon-Thu 10am-4am; 04-97-03-12-22; www.lucienbarriere.com), which offers some 300 slot machines and a more formal gaming room (fee entry from 10€; jacket required) with blackjack, roulette, and more; a feather-and-sequined cabaret show is also produced here on Friday and Saturday nights (Sept-Jun; 22€ cover with one drink; dinner packages also available for 60€).
With some 7,000 shops to choose from, Nice will easily accommodate when you’re ready to part ways with your euros. No matter the exchange rate, shopping in Nice is simply not to be missed thanks to its fantastic selection of Provençal crafts, locally produced foods, high-end boutiques, and atmospheric open-air markets.
The animated, pedestrian-only Cours Saleya (two blocks north of Quai des Etats-Unis) in Vieux Nice, is the place to discover the art of market shopping in southern France. Standard produce stands are accompanied by the famous Marché aux Fleurs (Tue, Thu, Fri 6am-5.30pm, Weds, Sat, Sun 6am-1.30pm; produce market Tue-Sun 6am-1.30pm), a marketplace of colorful and thoroughly fragrant flowers that unfolds here every day except Mondays, when the blossoms are replaced by the Marché à la Brocante, (8am-5pm), an antiques market. A worthwhile arts and crafts fair also transpires here on summer evenings (June-Sept 6pm-midnight).
Continue through Old Nice’s mazelike network of streets and snug alleyways for the best boutiques selling Provençal crafts, fabrics, and souvenirs. Two of the best are Le Chandelier (7 Rue de la Boucherie; ? 04-93-85-85-19) and Le Couqueto (8 Rue Saint-François de Paule; 04-93-80-90-30). We also like Atelier Contre-Jour (3 Rue du Pont Vieux; 04-93-80-20-50) for their fine selection of arts and crafts like silk lampshades and painted woodworks.
To bring back a taste of Nice, seek out Confiserie Florian du Vieux-Nice (14 Quai Papacino; 04-93-55-43-50; www.confiserieflorian.com) near the port for a delectable selection of crystallized fruit (a signature Nice sweet) and jams. For fine chocolates, head instead to Maison Auer (7 Rue St-François de Paule; 04-93-85-77-98; www.maison-auer.com) in front of the Opéra, which has been pleasing chocolate-loving palates since 1820. If you’re set on bringing some of that sun-kissed olive oil home with you, mosey just up the block to Boutique Alziari (14 Rue St-François de Paule; 04-93-85-76-92; www.alziari.com.fr), one of Nice’s oldest purveyors of olive oil.
For the finest selection of upscale shops, head straight to the chic boutiques of Avenue du Verdun and Rue Paradis, just west of Place Masséna, where shops like Cartier (4 Ave de Verdun; 04-92-14-48-20), Hermès (8 Ave de Verdun; 04-93-87-75-03); Emporio Armani (1 Rue Paradis; 04-93-16-16-07), and Chanel (6 Rue Paradis;? 04-93-88-39-99) await.
Finally, the largest department store in town is the five-level Galeries Lafayette (6 Ave Jean Médecin; 04-92-17-36-36; www.galerieslafayette.com), where several hundred brand-name houseware and clothing items, ranging from the affordable to the luxurious, compete to pry your euros away.
Venturing further along the French Riviera – generally cited as the 75 miles of Mediterranean-bordered shores that plunge southwest from the Italian border, passing by several illustrious tourist havens before ultimately winding down near the beach resort of Cannes – is a natural extension to your time in Nice. The Côte d’Azur is dotted with a contrasting yet cohesive blend of glamorous coastal resorts and sleepy villages, each with its own unique connection to the Mediterranean. Fully outlining the treasures of the Riviera could easily fill up an entire guidebook series, but we’ve rounded up the most jaw-dropping highlights to get you started. You’ll definitely want to rent a car to get around – just be sure to keep in mind that coastal thoroughfares are prone to extensive congestion, especially during the summer high season, so always factor in plenty of extra travel time. If you prefer to explore with somebody else behind the wheel, TER (Regional Express Trains) trains run along the coast (see Getting There) and public buses run several routes through the RCA (Rapides Cote D’Azur) lines; visit www.rca.tm.fr for more information.
Kick off your Riviera tour by cruising the Corniches, the collective name of three adjacent roads running from Nice to the Italian frontier town of Menton (the ideal way to reach points east of Nice). These sexy, serpentine roadways are carved right into the coastal cliffs and reveal unforgettable vistas of the Mediterranean Sea and its settlements. The lower passageway, the Basse Corniche, stretches for 20 miles, passing through St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and offering access to Monte Carlo. The middle road, the Moyenne Corniche, winds through tunnels and mountains for 19 miles and takes you into the heart of Eze. The Grande Corniche is the highest of the three roadways and affords the most panoramic overlooks on its 20-mile expanse.
Following the Basse Corniche east of Nice for about five miles, the first stop of interest is the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Enamored by the promontory’s relative quiet, remarkable scenery, and flourishing vegetation, many a millionaire has parked their yacht in the harbor and taken up residence in the elaborate villas. Packed with bars, restaurants, and hotels, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (Tourism Office at 59 Ave Denis Semeria; 04-93-76-08-90; www.ville-saint-jean-cap-ferrat.fr) is the most animated of the towns and the setting for the exceptional Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (July-Aug daily 10am-7pm, Sept-June daily 10am-6pm, mid-Nov-early Jan Mon-Fri 2-6pm; 04-93-01-33-09; 9.5€; www.villa-ephrussi.com). Built in the early 20th century for Baroness Ephrussi, a wealthy woman with an insatiable taste for the arts, the palatial home is now a museum for her eclectic collection, with nine gorgeous outdoor gardens.
Continue east on the Basse Corniche and you’ll reach the independent principality of Monaco (10 miles northeast of Nice; Tourism Office at 2A blvd des Moulins; www.visitmonaco.com), famed for its royal governance, spotless streets, and tax haven status. Kick off your visit by taking in the beautiful Prince’s Palace of Monaco (June-Sept daily 9.30am-6pm, Oct 10am-5pm; 6€; www.palais.mc) and perusing the nearby high-end shops. Once the sun goes down, linger within Monte Carlo – the principality’s most esteemed quarter – and indulge your James Bond fantasy at the Monte Carlo Casino (Place du Casino; www.casinomontecarlo.com), an opulent example of 19th-century architecture designed by Charles Garnier (architect of the Opéra Garnier in Paris). Doors open midday, though many of the private gaming rooms (where gentlemen must sport a jacket and tie after 10pm) are closed until 4pm.
Head east from Nice on the Moyenne Corniche to reach one of our favorite Riviera stops, Eze (6 miles northeast of Nice; Tourism Office at Place du Général de Gaulle; 04-93-41-26-00; www.eze-riviera.com), a medieval hamlet of weathered stone buildings and ramparts that cling to a majestic cliff 1,400 feet above sea level. This quaint village is so harmoniously etched into its setting that sea, sky, and earth appear to seamlessly merge. Meander along the stone pathways and discover exotic gardens, charming restaurants, and local artisans’ workshops.
Several towns west of Nice are also worth exploring. Follow the soft coastal curve of Nice’s Baie des Anges westward and you’ll stumble upon one of the Côte d’Azur’s most captivating small towns: Antibes (13 miles southwest of Nice; Tourism Office at 11 place du Général de Gaulle; 04-97-23-11-11; www.antibesjuanlespins.com) has managed to escape the superficial glitz and overdevelopment that plague many other Riviera towns, maintaining the charm and tranquility of a small fishing village while still housing its fair share of millionaires. Above the old port presides Château Grimaldi, once a residence for the Antibes’ royals and today the home of the Musée Picasso (closed for renovations through early 2008; 04-92-90-54-20), world-renowned for its staggering collection which counts among its many treasures approximately 245 works by Picasso. Antibes is equally enchanting for the 17th-century ramparts that trace the city’s outline against the gently purring waters of the Mediterranean.
Next up along the coast: Lights, camera, Cannes (17 miles southwest of Nice; Tourism Office at Palais des Festivals, La Croisette; 04-92-99-84-22; www.palaisdesfestivals.com)! Each May since the mid-’40s, this little beach town on the Côte d’Azur is transformed into a playground for international film stars and Hollywood jetsetters during the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. If you also have a taste for the high life, a long walk down Cannes’ main promenade, La Croisette, will place you squarely in the lap of luxury as you trace the graceful curve of Cannes’ beaches on a pathway dotted by palm trees, gardens, restaurants, fancy hotels, and glitzy designer shops – count on outposts of every big-name designer you can think of. Although it may come off as a bit superficial, it’s hard to deny its allure.
Driving inland for about 20 miles northwest of Nice via the A8 Autoroute (exit n°48) you’ll discover, perched upon a rocky hilltop, St-Paul-de-Vence (Tourism Office at 2 Rue Grande; 04-93-32-86-95; www.saint-pauldevence.com), an artists’ haven where winding cobblestone streets curl around the stone facades of 16th-century houses encircled by 400-year-old stone ramparts. In the 1920s, numerous artists became attracted to this earthy hamlet of medieval stone houses that seem to blend into the rock on which they are built – the village’s elevated boundaries offer spectacular panoramas over rolling hills and vineyards. Enjoy the fruits of this modern day artists’ enclave by popping into the converted art galleries, studios, and one-off boutiques.
Alternatively, tacking on a quick excursion into Italy at San Remo (32 miles east of Nice, A8 Autoroute to Ventimiglia to Autostrada A10; Tourism Office at Largo Nuvoloni, 1; www.sanremoguide.it) is an easy way to get a quick taste of the Liguria region of Italy (also known as the Italian Riviera). This cosmopolitan beach resort boasts an upscale, century-old casino (Corso degli Inglesi 18; slot machines 10am-2am, tables 2.30pm-2.30am; 7.50€ cover charge on weekends; www.casinosanremo.it), a charming medieval old town (La Pigna), lavish flower gardens, and sun-kissed beaches.
When To Go
Sun-kissed Nice is blessed by warm temps and luminous landscapes year round, with summer months that are warm, but rarely insufferably hot, and mild winters. Visitors can expect some 300 days of sunshine a year, complimented by sultry Mediterranean breezes. As such, tourism never really ceases, although each season does carry both pros and cons for travelers. While low-season winters are mild (averaging about 50°F), you’ll still need a light jacket and won’t be able to hit the surf. If swimming is high on you’re agenda, you’ll want to plan your trip in summer – June through September are the best months for this, with water and land temperatures each hovering upwards of 70°F. However, the summer high season can be hot and humid, and is near-always met by overpowering crowds, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and sky-high air-and-hotel costs. Instead, we propose a spring or early fall trip for the best bang for your buck, with temps typically lingering in the low 60s – perhaps too cold for a dip, but just right for sunbathing and sightseeing.
If you’re coming to town for Nice’s famous Carnival celebration, the "Mardi Gras of the Riviera," in February, or for the Nice Jazz Festival in July, be prepared for a wonderful experience, but to shell out on spiked rates for accommodations. If these festivals are not on your agenda, avoid these time frames at all costs.High Season: mid-May to mid-September
Low Season: November to mid-March
Best Bang for your Buck: mid-March to mid-May; mid-September to October
The international airport – France’s second busiest after Paris – is just four miles to the west of downtown, so getting to Nice is a breeze. Aéroport Nice-Côte d'Azur (NCE; www.nice.aeroport.fr) is well-serviced by major international carriers like Air France (via Paris; www.airfrance.us), British Airways (via London; www.britishairways.com), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt; www.lufthansa-usa.com), and others, who offer connecting service to Nice via their respective European hubs. Non-stop flights to Nice from the US are available through Delta (www.delta.com) only, in partnership with Air France from New York City. Flight time with connecting service to Nice is about 11.5 hours from Atlanta, 11.5 hours from Chicago, 14 hours from Los Angeles, and 9 hours (non-stop) from New York.
For travelers on multi-city tours of Europe, efficient train service connects Nice’s main station, Gare SNCF Nice-Ville, to cities across the continent, including Paris. The quickest route to Paris is operated on special high-speed train (TGV) service (5.5 hours duration). There are also locally operated TER (Regional Express Trains) trains with stops along the Mediterranean coast at Cannes, Monaco, and more. Check with Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) for schedule and fare information.
Nice is a popular stop on Mediterranean cruise itineraries and is the top cruising port in France. Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com), Celebrity (www.celebrity.com), and Norwegian (www.ncl.com) are just a few of the cruise lines that call on Nice, as well as in neighboring Villefranche.
Booking air and hotel together (and other trip essentials such as airport transfers, car rentals, and even tours and activities) can save a bundle of cash – online travel discounters such as Expedia (www.expedia.com), Orbitz (www.orbitz.com), and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) are a good place to start your search. You may also wish to consult with any of our recommended European-specialized providers, including France Vacations (www.francevacations.net); Go-Today (www.go-today.com); Virgin Vacations (www.virgin-vacations.com); and EuropeASAP (www.europeasap.com).
Getting into Nice
You can get a taxi right at the airport; it's the fastest and easiest way to get to your hotel – rates range from 20€ to 28€ (night trips cost more) for the under-20-minute drive to destinations in downtown Nice. Direct, shared shuttle service to your hotel can also be arranged beforehand, usually with a requirement of two or more in your party – try Tour Azur (04 93 44 88 77; from 14€; www.tourazur.com). Several hotels also provide private shuttles – be sure to inquire when booking your room. A more economical option is to catch one of the special airport buses into town – you can access several hotels along the Promenade des Anglais via bus #98 (terminus bus station, Gare Routière; 6am-9pm, every 20 min, special night buses available; 4€) or bus #99 (terminus train station; 8am-9pm, every 30 min; 4€,). The main train station can also be reached via municipal bus #23 (6am-9pm, approx. every 20 min; 1.30€), although the higher-priced lines 98 and 99 also allot you unlimited travel for the day on Nice buses.
If you prefer to drive, car rental agencies like Avis (www.avis.com), Budget (www.budget.com), and Hertz (www.hertz.com), among others, have rental offices in the airport. Driving is a good way to explore the rest of the Côte d'Azur, as well as quarters like Cimiez, which is outside of downtown Nice. However, if you intend to spend most of your time near the beaches and in Vieux Nice, a car will be an unnecessary expense, as these areas are best explored by foot and parking is usually restricted to somewhat pricey garages. If you opt to rent a car once you’ve left the airport, car rental agencies do operate throughout the city, particularly from the main train station.
If you’re staying in the fairly compact downtown area of Nice, you can count on being within a 10-minute walk to the shore. Several public buses run tourist-friendly routes, including a couple that run along the length of the Promenade des Anglais – check out www.lignedazur.com for schedule and route information. Single rides cost 1.30€ – unlimited day passes from 4€ are also available, as are special rates on weekly (15€) and multi-ticket passes. Taxis can also be arranged through your hotel concierge or independently – try Central Taxi Riviera (04 93 13 78 78). You’ll also surely observe construction efforts underway on a new central tramway (www.tramway-nice.org), which is due for completion in fall 2007.