Ancient history may recall occupation by Greeks and Romans, but it is the wealthy British of the Victorian era, including Queen Victoria herself, who really blew wide open the secret of this glorious portion of southern Europe.
Today the warm winters and hot summers, with blessed relief provided by the turquoise sea (hence Cote-d’Azur), lure visitors of a different kind. They are still lulled by the possibility of beautiful weather, but also by the finest cuisine, historic cultural attractions, and ease of access to must-sees that trip off the tongue: to the west Cannes; to the east, Monte Carlo.
It costs nothing to take in the sights of the beautiful Baie des Anges from the sweeping Promenade des Anglais that has played host to countless members of royalty, celebrities, and, yes, ordinary folk – for around a couple of hundred years. Either that or grab a chair on the beach, though be warned: while the water is inviting, the beach is pebble not sand.
Another great view can be had from the hilltop ruins of Colline du Chateau. For a deeper historical perspective, the Cimiez neighbourhood is built on what was the original Roman capital, and preserved Roman baths and remains of an amphitheatre are within a free museum. Cimiez is also home to the Henri Matisse Museum, one of four major art museums.
Eat and Drink
The traditional cuisine leans more towards Mediterranean rather than classic French so expect a big emphasis on olive oil rather than butter, seafood and pasta. Local specialities include soupe de poisson – seafood soup served with aioli, croutons and grated cheese – salade Nicoise and socca, a flatbread made with chickpea flour and served with a beer or glass of wine as a light lunch or afternoon snack.
Some of the best traditional restaurants are in the Vieux Nice district, serving everything from seafood soup to sausages with lentils and ravioli. This is also a great spot for a selection of bars, but you can also splurge along the beachfront or the Rue de France.
Where to Stay
As you might expect from a town that has been so popular with visitors for literally hundreds of years, Nice has much to offer when it comes to all types of accommodation. The Promenade des Anglais, fronting the beach and the bay, is lined with upmarket and boutique properties, some synonymous with aristocratic grandeur.
There are also lots of good hotel options back from the promenade, but it might be worth considering being close to the tram route if accessibility is an issue. There are fewer hotels in Vieux-Nice, but the numerous self-contained apartments are an option.
This is the heart of the Cote d’Azur after all, so of course you are going to find great shopping for designer labels, high-street brands, specialty stores selling locally produced crafts including jewellery and Provencal fabrics, as well as providores and markets offering the freshest produce and wonderful regional wines (several rosé labels from Provence are particularly outstanding).
The primary mainstream shopping street is Avenue Jean Medecin, where you will find the centres of Galeries Lafayette and Nice Etoile for one-stop shopping, as well as numerous stand-alone outlets such as Zara and Mango. It’s also on the tram route. For markets with wonderful fresh produce, head to Cours Saleya in Vieux Nice.
Nice Like a Local
If you don’t want to drive around, and walking is a bit too much, hire a bike. Like many cities in Europe, Nice has a pay-as-you-go bike hire system and the roads are relatively bike friendly. Nearly all the districts have Velo Bleu bike racks where you can hire your wheels, and the first 30 minutes are free. If nothing else, it’s a great way to see the five-kilometre Promenade des Anglais.