With a pumping night life, sociable people and Cannes and Monaco right on the doorstep, Nice is the undiscovered holy grail for the lads' holiday.
Where to go for a lads' summer holiday? We of course wanted the bars, clubs and the great nightlife, but also desperately wanted to avoid the sleaze, violence and vomit that accompanies the more obvious destinations around Europe.
Enter Nice - the charismatic capital of the French Riviera, and it didn't disappoint. It remains one of my favourite places on this earth today, now let me explain why.
There's something so wonderfully convivial about the concept of the seafront promenade, and nowhere does it justice like Nice. Speaking as a milk bottle Brit, the first thing you notice is just how tanned, healthy and attractive all the locals look as they strut their oily stuff up and down that long stretch of sun-kissed tarmac.
Taking a walk up the Promenade des Anglais is the very first thing you must do. It's a great way to find your bearings and get a feel for the place. You can take in all of the beautiful old buildings and the lush palm littered public gardens along the seafront before the walk ends atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the crystal blue of the Med. If you hold an image of the perfect Mediterranean town in your mind's eye, then you'll find the real thing stood exactly here. I mean, they don't call it 'Nice La Belle' for nothing.
The Old Town
Nice is old. Very old. The Greeks and Romans have settled here, and the classic medieval old town has buildings dating back to the mid 16th century. It is a network of narrow streets, intersecting looming archaic architecture, boasting enough bars, boutiques and restaurants to inspire even the most hung-over of tourists. Situated between the Promenade des Anglais and the Boulevard Jean Jaures, it is the cultural and social epicentre of the city.
Most of the must-see sights are found here, the best of which in my opinion is Castle Hill, or Colline du Château. The steep climb up from the promenade is oh so worth it, as you will find yourself in a historical and visual wonderland. The ruins of the Château, along with the ancient Roman ruins and waterfall make it really quite special, and for those uninterested in history, the unparalleled photo opportunities over the old town and harbour will definitely satisfy.
The most vital ingredient to a good lads' holiday. Most of the nightlife is based around the old town, particularly down the Rue de la Préfecture, although really, you'll find something good whichever road you decide to wander down. My top tip would be to talk to people and have a good old explore. There is even an Irish Pub in the form of Ma Nolan's on the Rue Saint François de Paule if you want to feel more at home. Many of the bars have great live music from local bands and will often keep the drink flowing well into the small hours.
The company of Uncle Sam
A most welcome and unexpected twist to our holiday was that there were very few young Brits, but loads of young Americans. It seems that Nice is an established pit-stop on the US traveller circuit of Europe. Every night out we had involved hooking up with a new group of like-minded carefree twenty-something American travellers, who were consistently very friendly, open and knew how to have a good time. It was so nice how we could just plonk ourselves down next to complete strangers and effortlessly talk and laugh the night through – it's what being on holiday should be like.
We're in France here, so it kind of goes without saying that any dining experience is going to be a pure delight. Again, it's the old town that shines through here. It is simply archetypal France, where each cobbled street is a treasure trove of cafés and eateries with their al fresco drinking and dining huddled around tiny tables in the moonlight.
My tip really is just to follow your nose (literally) and try something new each day, though I must recommend La Tapenade; a cheery little corner restaurant with an outdoor terrace sited where Rue Sainte Réparate meets Rue de la Préfecture. It is not too expensive and does beautifully made pasta and pizza dishes. This type of food is popular here, perhaps because Nice has on occasion changed hands between Italy and France though its long history.
An undeservedly overlooked branch of French fare is that of the French-Vietnamese. This food does have a lot in common with the oriental cooking we know in Britain, but it is in my opinion far less stodgy and so worth a try. I can recommend the fantastic, but slightly expensive Fleur de Jade restaurant on the Rue d'Italie in the city centre. They do the most amazing marinaded spicy chicken, I just wish I could tell you what it was called...
The Côte d'Azur
Because Nice is so pleasing as a destination you may forget that many other priceless places are but a short train ride away. Just the mention of names like Monaco, Cannes and Antibes is likely to quicken the pulse and conjure up images in the mind of fast cars and movie stars, of glitz and glamour. Well, they're all well within day-trip distance.
The beach at Nice is shale, but hop on a train to Antibes, and you'll find yourself in a beautiful medieval town, complete with a small but perfectly formed sand beach sun trap. Just a little further down the coast and you have all the glamour of Cannes, with its long golden sands and its Riviera playboys zipping around in their Ferraris and Porsches.
The other direction from Nice takes you to the tax dodging, yacht sailing, Grand Prix hosting, bay-side principality of Monaco, and yes, you can go into the casino without having to join. If you arrive by train you'll be treated to what has to be the finest train station ever built. It seems to be made entirely out of polished marble.
In this part of France particularly, the locals can get a little testy if you expect them to speak English to you. I'd say that no matter how bad your French is, just have a go. They will appreciate your effort and may then take pity and speak to you in English (most people there speak it quite well).
Getting a taxi from the airport is easy. There are plenty of them and it's likely to cost around 30-40 Euros depending on which part of town you are going. However, after a night out, getting a taxi is nigh on impossible, so don't get a hotel too far out.
Beer is served by the litre or half litre. If you ask for a 'Grande' Beer you are likely to be given a litre. Drinking in bars is expensive, so it is a good idea to get some cheap alcohol from the local shops to drink before going out.
Where to stay
The Nice Fleurs: 17 Avenue Des Fleurs, Nice.
Great value self catering! The rooms come equipped with a TV, bathroom and a kitchen if you want to eat in (which is criminal). There is a convenience store and Boulangerie on nearby Boulevard Gambetta.
Ma Nolans: 2 Rue Saint François De Paule, Nice. Tel: +33 (0)4 93 80 23 87 (www.ma-nolans.com)
La Tapenade: 6 Rue Sainte Réparate, Nice. Tel: +33 (0)4 93 80 65 63
Fleur de Jade: 8 Rue d'Italie, Nice. Tel: +33 (0)4 93 88 34 01
Train info: (www.raileurope.co.uk/default.aspx?tabid=915)