A must-read guide to the hottest spots in Nice, the jewel of the French Riviera
Thinking about a few days in the glamorous South of France but not sure where to start? Then Nice, the gateway to the region, is the natural choice. Less flashy than Saint Tropez and more soulful than Monte Carlo, it boasts a wealth of fascinating cultural attractions, a tempting dining scene and pulsating nightlife. In fact, you may find it hard to ever leave. Here are some miss-at-your-own-peril highlights:
Cours Saleya Market
Every Tuesday to Sunday morning, Cours Saleya square, just steps from the seafront and famous Promenade des Anglais, bursts into life with a colourful outdoor flower and food market. It’s not an exaggeration to say the market is intrinsic to daily life in Nice, with a constant throng of locals picking up the freshest of vegetables and fish to plan their weekly meals. There’s another market on Mondays selling all sorts of knick knacks with some antique gems hidden among them, plus there’s an arts and crafts fair on summer evenings. Look out for regional specialities such as fruits glacés (candied fruits), Nice olives and local cheeses, and a dazzling array of flowers. Once the market has been hosed down the square comes to life once more in the evening as restaurants, bistros, bars and crêperies open up shop.
Information: Cours Saleya, Nice, 06300 France; +33 (0)4 92 14 48 00; Tues-Sat 6AM-5:30PM, Sun 6am-12pm. It’s on the edge of Vieux Nice, a block back from Quai des Etats-Unis.
The neighbourhood of Cimiez sits on a hill north of Cours Saleya and is one of the wealthiest parts of the city. It is home to the impressive Musée Matisse (164 Avenue des Arènes; +33 4 93 81 08 08), a beautiful 17th century villa containing a large collection of Henri Matisse¹s paintings, sketches, engravings and more. The artist lived nearby until his death in 1954. While you’re there, pop next door into the Musée Archéologique (160 Avenue des Arènes; +33 4 93 81 59 57) to see a vast array of objects excavated from the Roman city of Cemenelum, before heading to the renowned Chagall museum, Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (Avenue du Docteur-Ménard; +33 4 93 53 87 20; www.musee-chagall.fr). It claims to boast the largest collection worldwide of his brightly coloured 20th century works. Also worth a pit stop is the Monastère de Cimiez, founded in the 9th century, and in addition to the monastery there’s a church that has been used by Franciscan monks since the 16th century.
The beaches in Nice (best visited during spring and summer) may be pebbly, but that doesn’t detract too much from their glamour and excitement. The first decision to be made is whether to go public or private. The advantages to the public beaches are quickly apparent they are generally clean and best of all, free! Some have showers, loos and snack bars. Pitch up with a fold-up lounger, padded mat and parasol, or just a towel for the die-hards. And don’t forget to pack a picnic! A couple of the best are the Plage Publique de Beau Rivage and La Reserve, opposite Parc Vigier to the east of the port. Beaches line the entire sweep of the Promenade des Anglais and public ones are interspersed among the private ones. The latter are pricey (around 15-20 euros per day for a lounger and you get charged extra for a parasol, too) but they’re very neat, plus you¹re well looked after and provided with waiter service, comfy beds and often extremely good restaurants. Blue Beach (www.bluebeach.fr), opposite the Hotel Negresco, and trendy Castel Plage (www.castelplage.com), the last on the Promenade at the foot of Castle Hill, are very good.
Le Palais de la Méditerranée
The hotel Le Palais de la Méditerranée occupies a prime position on the Promenade des Anglais. A landmark building, it has a grand white Art Deco façade created in the 1930s that was restored to its original splendour when it reopened as a hotel and casino in 2004. Spread over nine stories, the third floor is the heart of the hotel with an indoor/outdoor pool, terrace and gastronomic restaurant hidden behind imposing columns, all with stunning views of the sea and Promenade. The style is super chic and contemporary, and the poolside restaurant, Le Padouk, proves it’s possible to provide delicious, seasonal Provencal food in knockout surroundings without costing the earth. Naturally, you sit inside the restaurant during the colder months, which is suitably fashionable, but when I visited during summer 2009 I enjoyed a fabulous evening enhanced by the atmosphere and buzz that drifts up from the busy seafront road below. My bouillabaisse dish was superb and light, studded with pieces of red mullet and seafood. An excellent three-course lunch can be had for a reasonable 25 euros, featuring rabbit and sea bass, and lots of healthy offerings are also available with the calories noted on the menu.
Russian Orthodox Cathedral
The incredibly ornate Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe Saint-Nicolas de Nice (off Boulevard du Tzarewitch, west of the train station between Avenue Jean Medecin and Gambetta; +33 4 93 96 88 02; www.acor-nice.com) was built by Tsar Nicolas II in 1912 in a small suburb a half mile west of Nice Ville railway station. The exterior is extremely striking with its colourful onion-shaped domes, while the interior is full of treasures including elaborate frescoes and intricate wood carvings. Important icons - and there are loads - include Our Lady of Korsoun, The Sacred Face of Jesus and The Apostle St. Peter. It was the first church to be designated a Russian Orthodox Cathedral outside Russia and is generally regarded as the most beautiful outside the country. The Russians have long been regular visitors to the French Riviera and at the end of the 19th century; everyone from Russian dukes to famous ballerinas could be spotted strolling the Promenade. Please note there is an entry charge to the cathedral of three euros per adult.