Nice: nice town!

by jon

Nice is a city of contrasts with ultra-modern touches and a fascinating history. You can easily spend money in the city's tempting shops and restaurants but read my guide to make your money go further

Don’t tell those sports footwear people, but Nike was a highly fashionable name long before sweaty trainers came to dominate the planet. Back in around 350 BC, following the defeat of the Ligurians by the Greeks, a town on the Mediterranean was named Nicaea, after the Greek goddess of victory. Today, it answers to the name of Nice. It’s aptly named.

If you have some money that needs disposing of, Nice will do it quickly, effortlessly and with tremendous style.

If you wish to explore the eastern Mediterranean coast in comfort, and for mere pennies, Nice is where to start.

Daily market? Great promenade? Fabulous shops? Outstanding architecture and (free!) museums? Huge numbers of people wearing fur coats and walking tiny dogs?

Nice, I can report, mixes the ultra-modern with a fascinating history. It’s clean, well run, easily navigated, delightfully eccentric and very beautiful.

Let’s be clear: Nice is not exactly the cheapest city on Earth. A meal at the Michelin-starred Restaurant Keisuke Matsushima at 22 ter rue de France (http://www.keisukematsushima.com/en/info.html) could easily cost more than your air fare. (A lot more if you go for a bottle of Keisuke’s 1988 Petrus at €3450). Despite the name, this place is closer to classic French cuisine than Japanese, and with the reputation of its young chef rising as spectacularly as a popped champagne cork, paying around €50 per head may well be a bargain you can boast of in a few years. Reservations : by phone ( 33 )04 93 82 26 06
: by fax ( 33 )04 92 00 08 49

The other end of the scale can be represented by Lou Pilha Leva (10 rue du Collet, Vieux Nice). This is perhaps the most popular of many similar eateries clustered around the narrow streets of the Old Town. Expect to queue - and don’t expect haute cuisine. Socca the tasty chick-pea pancake typically costs around €3, pissaladière is a ubiquitous local creation, a pizza variation that employs onions rather than tomatoes in the basic topping. Delicious, and at around €4, good value. A bottle of beer or glass of house wine will set you back anything from around €2 - €3.50. Soft drinks are a little, but not much, less.

As withNice Garden Hotel, just off the sea front on the Rue du Congrés, is handy for just about everything and has a lovely garden which makes for a delightful breakfast. The rooms are pleasant and airy. Happy to take singles (from €50 low season, up to €115 for couples in high season), this is a small, friendly place.

Palais De La Mediterranee Hotel Nice boasts a fabulous location on the Promenade des Anglais. The terrace here is one of the places to be seen in Nice. Prices start from around €150 for a couple in a standard room, running up to €1,000 or so for a luxury suite.

Hotel Suisse at the East end of the promenade was given a comprehensive makeover a few years ago and couples up-to-date facilities with (yet another...) splendid view and outstanding hospitality. A room in high season will be €180 or so.

In general, eating out will cost roughly 20% more for a standard meal than you may expect to pay in the UK (but watch the currency rate), so think about self-catering. Retail food prices are much the same in many cases as in the UK, but the choice is, as you may expect in a French city, brilliant. The market on Cours Saleya runs every day except Monday, when it becomes an antique market. Cheese, fish, meat and veg are laid out as if for a film set and there are wonderful displays of flowers. The aroma of fresh herbs pervades the whole area, competing with odours of coffee and cooking that waft from myriad cafes and bars. If you haven’t tried self catering, do look into this.

Cooking on holiday may seem like a chore, but picking up exotic vegetables and weird looking fish in the market is great fun. It also costs much less than a restaurant, so you can save for a couple of really memorable meals rather than having to hunt for cheap eateries if you are on a budget. Also, you can have breakfast at 11am if you like.

For more prosaic needs, the huge MonoPrix (http://www.sitedesmarques.com/magasin-grande-distribution/monoprix-nice-06012-73200.htm) a couple of blocks up from the promenade on Avenue Jean Médecin (just follow the tram) is a sort of Waitrose with added chic, and the biggest of many supermarkets and mini markets in Nice.

Owners Direct (http://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/) and holidaylettings (http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/rentals/alcala-la-real/30329) both have a terrific range of self-catering properties for just about any imaginable combination of adults/children/pets. Through the former we were able to rent a pretty swish apartment with a fabulous view over the Place Massena, the picturesque main square set bang in the centre of Nice, paying just €337 for the first week of the year. This involved a bit of negotiation, but as many of these places are in private hands, they can be open to some gentle bargaining.

Which brings us to what is, in my opinion, the best bargain of the lot.

Anyone used to British public transport, all dirty buses and surly drivers gouging huge sums of money to jerk and bump you a few miles - well, here is how it should, and can, be done. For just a single euro, the trams and busses of the Ligne d'Azur (http://www.lignedazur.com/) will take you on journeys lasting an hour or more along the Côte d'Azur or up into the mountains. Cost from or to the airport is €4, but the ticket is good for the whole day. There is little need for taxis in Nice - transport starts early and finishes late.

It’s terrific, is Nice. The architecture will knock your socks off, the shops will try to knock your bank balance off, and you can wonder, as we did, just why the park up at Cimiez, next to the Musée National Marc Chagall (http://www.musee-chagall.fr/), is full of statues of jazz musicians, or why the hut in this park selling coffee and Panini can charge €1.50 for a small bottle of water when the chap running the immaculate loo a few yards away (35c per visit – a bargain!) charges just 50c for the same product. Nice? It’s my kinda town!

How to get there

We flew to Nice on New Year’s Day, using Bristol Airport (http://www.bristolairport.co.uk/) and easyJet (http://www.easyjet.com/asp/en/book/index.asp), a combination that generally works well and which came up trumps this time with two return tickets for a total, including all taxes and baggage, of £108.58. Parking for the week was a further £33.99 and the whole trip was efficiently run utterly painless.

Note for photographers

On day one of our trip, I became involuntarily intimate with a big wave, and my (very expensive!) camera did not survive the experience. (Point one here is: insure!) I procured, from the very friendly and helpful staff of Darty on Avenue Notre-Dame (http://www.darty.com/) a small FujiFilm A180 for €88. All the pictures and the video accompanying this article came from that tiny, highly impressive little machine. So point two is: you do not have to have expensive equipment to get decent holiday snaps! (This was my first attempt at a video. Sorry if it’s a bit wobbly in places...).

 

Web cam: http://pv.viewsurf.com/?id=40