No doubt about it. A Nice shopping trip must start at the flower market on Cours Saleya (above), between the old town and the sea. The square – more of a long rectangle, really – is already rather lovely, with its ochre Italianate buildings trimmed with bars and restaurants.
But then, every day but Monday, it explodes with colour and Provençal aromas as flower sellers move in from across the surrounding region. Purveyors of fruit and veg slip in alongside them. It’s an irresistible spectacle, and none the worse for fitting the Provençal image exactly.
Clearly, if you’re on holiday, there’s not much point in buying any flowers for yourself. But you can have them sent to friends or family back home. Most of the stands will arrange foreign deliveries – of flowers from the market, not via Interflora. This will have the enormous benefit of making the recipients as jealous as hell. Well worth a few euros.
On Mondays, incidentally, the flower market is replaced by antiques and bric-à-brac stands.
From the Cours Saleya, you might wade into the Old Town. Place François hosts the daily morning fish market. All around, this whole area seethes with unrestrained commerce, from butchers via T-shirt shops to galleries and boutiques. Rue Droite has the galleries, Rue Pairolière the food shops ... but also Fikan’a, a hippy-chic women’s outlet with a certain following in the city. (20 Rue Pairolière; +33 493 824778).
Among other old town shops to aim for is Baobab (10 Rue du Marché; +33 493 802880) for Med and North African art objects and accessories. They’ll serve as presents for those to whom you haven’t sent flowers.
Not far away, the blue-fronted L’Ile-aux-Fées (8 Rue Benoît Bunico; +33 493 825442; www.ileauxfees.com) prides itself on an ethical approach to fashion. All the clothes, mainly by young designers, are apparently organic. And, despite the po-faced attitude (“beauty, fashion, environment and humanitarianism,” they say, and the heart sinks), the frocks look simply very pretty.
Now return to the Cours Saleya, and out along Rue St François-de-Paule. Look out first for the Maison Auer at N°7 (+33 493 857798; www.maison-auer.com). The family started making cakes and confectionery in 1820, and are still at it, in magnificent premises. Carved wood and glass give the inside a Florentine feel.
A little further on, at N°14, Alziari (+33 493 857692; www.alziari.com) is HQ of olives, olive oil and associated sundries. Established in 1868, the place has the only olive-press left in town. Its oils are exported pretty much everywhere, and available on draught in the shop for 12.90 euros-a-litre of fine virgin. Deli fare – foie gras, caviar, spices, preserves and good wines – is also to be had.
Another hop and you’re at Molinard (N° 20; +33 493 629050; www.molinard.com), the Nice outpost of the family outfit which has been making perfumes in Provence since 1849. I’ve yet to meet the red-blooded male who can resist the jasmine essence (ie, I like it).
At the end of the street, cut across to the Avenue de Verdun, and the start of what they call the Carré-d’Or. The Golden Square. In other words, the big-ticket boutique area, where you must keep a tight hold on both your credit card and your wife.
The Avenue de Suède has luxury outlets like Louis Vuitton (N°2; +33 493 878747; www.louisvuitton.com). The nearby, pedestrian Rue Paradis is base to many of the other international names ... but also, altogether more rivetingly, to Hana Hall (N°2; +33 493 823225). This is where rich and beautiful women go for their lingerie and swimwear. The shop window repays attention.
Plus ça change...
Rue Paradis leads to Rue Alphonse Karr, where Désert (N°9; +33 493 161710) has some pretty sharp ladies’ clobber from designers like Isabel Marant and Vanessa Bruno. (In case you’re interested, incidentally, Alphonse Karr was the 19th-century French journalist who gave the world the quote: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” He was talking of politics.)
Nearby, the Rue Longchamp is home to MP21 (N°4; +33 493 823836), another key couture address for the trendier at heart. Just round the corner, Pôles (16 Rue Maréchal Joffre. +33 493 162858) claims to be “a temple of big fashion creators”. Names like Marithé and Francois Girbaud, and Martin Margiela may or may not bear this out.
And so we leave the Carré-d’Or for Nice’s main – and more mainstream – shopping street, Avenue Jean Médecin. The Galéries Lafayette department store is here (N°6; +33 493 625124; www.galerieslafayette.com). This is the Galéries’ second-biggest branch, after Paris. So, gentlemen, arm yourselves with forbearance.
A little further along, NiceEtoile (N°30;+33 492 173817; www.niceetoile.com) is the city’s biggest in-town shopping mall. Some 100 shops lurk within its gleaming halls, from C&A and Habitat through Princesse Tam-Tam and Tie-Rack to NafNaf and Adidas. So, gentlemen, arm yourselves with a hip flask, a book and a sleeping bag.
Antiques street show
Or, if sweet of tooth, quit the mall and bob along to the Confiserie Mimosa (N°27, +33 4938511). Here they have the best candied fruit in town. They’ve been making them since 1936, so they’re pretty much on top of the job by now.
A final word, for antiques fans. Nice is very strong on the subject – but you’ll have to wander slightly off centre to benefit. Cross the splendid Place Garibaldi (it’s at the northern end of the old town) and amble into Rue Catherine Ségurane.
Shortly, both here and on surrounding streets, you’ll start bumping into antiquaires by the truckful. A good place to kick off is the Village Ségurane which, beyond an impressive classical portal, gathers together some 20 dealers. The whole district is a rewarding hive for those who think the past did things better than the present. And who also have thick wallets.
Should you find your means exceeded by the ambitious pricing, walk on to Place Robilante, near the Quai Lunel for the Flea Market (Marché aux Puces). It’s on daily from Tuesdays to Saturdays. If nothing else, it affords you the chance to have a stroll round the port area, where less intrepid tourists seldom venture. A mistake. It’s a bright and atmospheric part of town, overcome with Genoan architecture.