Nice - Queen of the Riviera

"Here I am in Nice, breathing the warm, balmy air…… here life and happiness come running swiftly to greet me, music folds me into her arms, and the future smiles on me." (Berlioz)

Why should composers and artists like Matisse and Chagall have all the fun? Come and bathe in Nice’s “clear, crystalline, prescise and limpid light” (Matisse) and feel your senses come tingling back to life. Then decide what to do with them – you’re spoilt for choice!

Must See

There are many things to see in Nice but the first to take in is the 19th century PROMENADE DES ANGLAIS which runs the length of the resort and overlooks the beautiful Baie des Anges (Angels’ Bay). The legendary promenade was built in the 1820s with funds raised by the English colony – so look as if you own the place, it’s practically your birthright!

Just take one of the promenade’s famous blue seats, position it where you want and take in the view. When you tire of looking out to sea turn round and watch the fascinating spectacle of the resort’s many roller bladers – don’t be surprised to see businessmen blading to work, mothers pushing prams and others being towed by their dogs!

Photo of Hotel Negresco Hotel Negresco by Clarque

From the Promenade des Anglais you cannot fail to see the striking Hôtel Negresco, a splendid baroque reminder of the Belle Epoque (c 1900). If you can’t afford a room (prices range from 250€ per night to 1,650€ for the Presidential Suite) and you want to see its treasures pretend you already have a room or look as if you own the place (not easy). The stained glass dome or ‘verrière’ above the salon royale was made by Gustave Eiffel and from it is suspended a Baccarat crystal chandelier made from 16,800 stones. Two chandeliers were ordered by the Tsar of Russia at the end of the 19th Century, one was delivered to the Tsar and can still be seen in the Kremlin, and thanks to the Russian Revolution the second remains here at the Negresco.

This splendid hotel harbours a rather macabre secret for it was here in 1927 that the infamous dancer Isadora Duncan got her trailing scarf caught in the wheels of her Bugatti and throttled herself. See www.hotel-negresco-nice.com

The Château is unusual in that it isn’t! Nice’s fortress was destroyed by an Englishman, the Duke of Berwick (an illegitimate son of James ll ) who cunningly became Marshall of France and served in the French army! Perfide Albion indeed! The summit now provides a shaded walk with a splendid viewing platform with panoramic views of the roofs of old Nice and the Baie des Anges. Steps leading down pass the picturesque Tour Bellanda where the composer Berlioz lived and which now contains a naval museum. Below is the port, which is a busy maritime centre and port of call for luxury liners.

Old Nice. A labyrinth of narrow alleys and buildings with pastel Italianate façades make up the gentrified Old Town – it was once a place of ill repute. You are now completely safe but make sure you trail some string after you if you want to leave by the way you go in!!!

Photo of Nice's Cours Saleya Nice's Cours Saleya
by Anthony Mahieu

Cours Saleya. Lined with cafés and restaurants this is home to Nice’s picturesque flower and fruit market and is a lively area at night. Note the baroque façade of the Chapelle de la Miséricorde with its rococo interior and spy the yellow front of the Caïs de Pierla Palace where Picasso lived facing the sea and bathed in luminosity from 1921 to 1938.

Place St-François. Make sure you catch the fish market here in the mornings. *Note the cannon ball from the siege of Nice by the Turks in 1543, which is now fixed to a house on the corner of Rue Droite and Rue de la Loge.

Parc Phoenix. This huge botanical garden contains over 2,000 plant species grouped in five large zones. Hidden speakers give the songs and calls of the birds and animals that cohabit with the plants in each zone. The giant greenhouse is a tropical hothouse with varying degrees of temperature and humidity. There is an orchid garden, a vivarium-aquarium, a fern garden, tropical garden, carnivorous plants and a butterfly house. If your French is up to it, visit: www.nice.fr/mairie_nice_919.html

Le Musée de l’Automobile. For all aficionados of four wheels this car museum is a must. It is located on the A8 motorway between Nice and Cannes and has its own exit, which is well signposted. www.wcities.com/en/record/,283274/150/record.html

Places to Eat / Drink

Photo of La Baie des Anges La Baie des Anges by Anthony Mahieu

Nice and its region is one of France’s gastronomic capitals and our guide recommends everything from fine restaurants to local specialities and France’s own version of fast food. But sit on any terrace and watch the chic Nicois walk past and all of a sudden you feel as if you’re in a Marcello Mastroianni film – possibly something to do with the number of Italians who cross the border and holiday in Nice!

Sit in the sun on the terrace of the café “Au Long Cours” in Cours Saleya and inhale deeply, the aromas of the flowers, spices, herbs and fruits make this the complete sensory experience.

Do not miss the Socca – no girls, nothing to do with football. This is the cheap and cheerful culinary delicacy of Nice made of chick-pea flour, olive oil and salt. Sit outside on the old wooden benches of Lou Pilha Leva on Rue du Collet in the labyrinth of Old Nice (terrace heated in winter) and it will set you back 2€. Watch the world go by with a glass of red. Make time for this.

Of the many beach restaurants try Ruhl Plage Restaurant (the Hotel Meridien’s beach outlet). A mere 9€ for spaghetti aux fruits de la mer (seafood). Enjoy the restaurant’s sun loungers and parasols if you prefer to digest horizontally and listen to the waves.

For a novel dining experience try La Rotunda, the Hotel Negresco’s brasserie just a little down the promenade (same side). Here you can enjoy pâtes au pistou for 9€ and a full menu for 29€ while sitting inside a very ornate merry-go-round. Surreal!

If you want top class dining at a fraction of the price charged by grander hotels go to Hotel Excelsior’s restaurant “La Romantica” in Ave. Durante. This is old world charm – run by old world people for old world people. De la classe – à petit prix! An excellent bouillabaisse (provençal fish soup) at a mere 16€ - all the more wonderful if you are dining solo as this regional speciality is often for a minimum of 2 persons.

TOP TIP: If you like value for money when you eat and you are exceedingly hungry do not fail to become acquainted with FLUNCH. This is a French fast food chain with a range of excellent but low cost meals –you can return to the self service vegetable counter as many times as you like! Ice cream and coffee also served. Flunch is situated right next to the railway station on Avenue Thiers - so you can use it for lunch before you catch the train or for dinner on your return.

Culture

Photo of Typical Nicois Architecture Typical Nicois Architecture by Anthony Mahieu

Museums, churches, palaces, monasteries, art galleries ,opera, theatre, live music, film studios, cinemas, archeological sites and Roman arenas – just some of the threads of the rich cultural tapestry of Nice. If you like a little culture to go with your sunshine then Nice can provide it.

Musée Matisse - The splendid Villa des Arènas (1670) celebrates the life, work and influence of Cimiez’s most famous resident – Matisse. His last work Flowers and Fruit (1953) greets the visitor and 30 canvases chart Matisse’s artistic journey from the early Still Life:Books (1890) through famous paintings such as Lectrice à la Table Jaune (1946) to Blue Nude lV (1952). Also on display are Matisse’s drawings, bronze sculptures and silkscreen prints along with personal belongings and the artists’s private art collection. There is an exhibition of photographs featuring Matisse – including those of Robert Capa. See www.musee-matisse-nice.org

Musée Marc-Chagall - This spectacular, largely glass, museum nestling among trees on a Cimiez hilltop houses the largest collection of Chagall’s work in the world. All 17 canvases which make up Chagall’s “Biblical Message” (1954-1967) are there - as are several sculptures, stained glass windows and a mosaic of the prophet Elijah reflected in the pool. See www.musee-chagall.fr

Musée des Beaux Arts - The Fine Arts Museum (1878) was built in the Renaissance style of a 17th Century Genoese palace. Alongside the works of artists with a Nice connection (painter Carle Van Loo and inventor of the modern poster Jules Chéret) you will find Rodin’s Bronze Age and works from the impressionists Monet and Sisley. See www.musee-beaux-arts-nice.org

Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain - Housed within the striking modern architecture of this museum are works from the French and American avant-garde art movements from the 1960s to the present. There is Pop Art by Andy Warhol and Nouveau Réalisme from Yves Klein (Ecole de Nice) alongside works from the Fluxus, Support-Surface and Minimalist movements. See www.mamac-nice.org

Musée Archélogique/Site Archéologique Gallo-Romain/Arènes - Near Musée Matisse in the Cimiez district are the excavations of Nice’s Roman settlement and the museum which houses its artifacts. Cimiez was the Romans’ preferred quarter of Nice and was known as Cemenelum, it was the seat of the Roman Procurator of the Alpes-Maritimes province and had a population of 20,000. Les Arènes is a Roman amphitheatre which could hold the 4,000 spectators who would come to watch gladiatorial bouts and spear contests. There are still live performances here during the summer – but of a less bloodthirsty nature. See www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/archeosm/archeosom/nice-mus.htm

Monastère Franciscain - This former Benedictine monastery founded in the 9th Century was taken over by the Franciscans in the 16th Century. L’Église Notre Dame de l’Assomption contains three masterpieces by Louis Bréa: Pietà (1475), Crucifixion (1512) and Deposition. The Franciscan museum contains frescoes, engravings and sculptures, and proclaims the social and spiritual message of the brotherhood. Don’t miss the beautiful monastery gardens.

Palais Lascaris (1648) - The façade of this sumptuous Genoese style palace is decorated with balustraded balconies resting on consoles of carved marble; columns have flowered capitals and scrollwork ornaments the doorway. Architecturally the pièce de résistance is the magnificent balustraded staircase with its 18th Century statues of Mars and Venus. You will find Flemish tapestries, a trompe-l’oeil ceiling, statues and paintings. There is a fine collection of arms and armour, an exhibition of jewels from all over the world and a collection of aristocratic and bourgeois costumes.

Cathédrale Ste-Réparate - This Baroque style cathedral was built in 1650 by Nice architect Guilberto. The interior is a supreme example of the Baroque in its plasterwork and marble.

Eglise St-Martin-St-Augustin - Again, a superb Baroque interior. Luther celebrated Mass here in 1510 and Garibaldi who would go on to unite Italy was baptised here.

Cathédrale Orthodoxe Russe St-Nicolas - Outside St. Basil’s in Moscow you will not see a better Russian Orthodox cathedral , its six gilded onion domes give an exotic touch to the skyline and reveal just how important the Russian colony on the Riviera was. Its inauguration took place in 1912 in the presence of the Imperial Russian family.

Opera House - Built in 1855 the sumptuous Opéra de Nice is an ornate temple to the arts of the theatre. If you want to catch a performance, the entrance is just off the quai des Etats-Unis.

Théatre de la photographie et de l’image - For those who love photography this is a must, closed when we tried to review it for you it is now fully open to the public. See www.evene.fr/culture/lieux/theatre-de-la-photographie-207.php

Statues and Sculptures - At the top of Boulevard de Cimiez you will find a statue of Queen Victoria who, like the Romans, preferred to stay in Cimiez. Don’t miss the 4 bronze horses rising from the fountains of Place Masséna or The Three Graces by Volti in Jardin Albert 1er hardby Avenue de Verdun. On the façade of the Élysée Palace in Rue Honoré Sauvan you will find the beautiful bronze Venus by Sacha Sonso (1989).

Shopping

Tired of the sun, the sea and the relaxation? Need to spend some money to enjoy yourself ? The main commercial thoroughfare is Avenue Jean Médecin which runs from the SNCF railway station to Place Masséna. Halfway down you will find Nice Etoile – the city centre’s biggest shopping centre; while closer to Place Masséna is Galeries Lafayette, the upmarket department store.

If you feel like a slightly more relaxed shopping environment try the pedestrianised Rue Masséna which continues into Rue de France and provides a mix of restaurants, cafés and shops.

As you might expect the streets of Nice are replete with the very top names in haute couture and fashion and you will be able to spoil someone special (or even someone else!) very easily. Choose from just some of the world famous brands with boutiques in the centre of Nice:

Shops

  • Aux Parfums de Grasse, perfumery, 10 Rue St. Gaétan
  • Cacharel, clothes, 7 Rue Paradis
  • Cartier, jewelry/watches, 4 Ave de Verdun
  • Chanel Mode, clothes/accessories, 6 Rue Paradis
  • Confiserie Florian, chocolates,preserves, 14 Quai Papacino
  • Emporio Armani, clothes, 11 Rue Paradis
  • Galleries Lafayette, department store, 6 Ave J. Médecin
  • Hermes, clothes, 8 Ave de Verdun
  • Kenzo, clothes, 10 Rue Paradis
  • Lacoste, clothes, 6 Ave de Suède
  • Longchamp, leather goods, 10-12 Ave de Verdun
  • Louis Vuitton, leather goods, 2 Ave de Suède
  • Sonia Rykiel, clothes, 3 Rue Paradis
  • Yves Saint Laurent, clothes, 4 Ave de Suède

* In Old Nice most shops are closed on Mondays *

Markets

  • Antique market, Cours Saleya, every Monday
  • Flea market , Place Robilante, Tues – Sat
  • Flower market, Cours Saleya, daily(except Tues)
  • Fruit and vegetable, Cours Saleya, daily(except Tues)
  • Fish market, Place St. Francois, daily(except Tues)

Transport Links

By Air - If you want to get a stunning bird’s-eye view of Nice as you arrive then nothing can beat coming by air – just make sure you are on the port side as your plane swings round over the Baie des Anges and comes in to land. Spectacular! Nice International Airport is the second busiest in France and is serviced by British Airways, Easyjet, British Midland and Virgin. There are daily flights to and from 30 other French cities. Tel. 00 33 (0)4 89 88 98 28. . See www.nice.aeroport.fr For transfers by Nice Helicopters telephone 00 33 (0)4 93 21 34 32 or visit www.nicehelicopteres.com

A taxi from the airport to the town centre will cost about 25€ but this is dependent on traffic in the high season (to book ahead phone Central Taxi Riviera on 00 33 (0)4 93 13 78 78).

A cheaper option is to follow the signs for the buses and buy a ticket at the kiosk for “la navette” (the shuttle). Auto Nice Transport provides a bus between the airport and the Gare Routière (coach station) every 20 minutes from 6am to 11.40pm. All hotels can be found from a stop on its route. A one-way ticket (“un aller simple”) gives you 1 hour on the city bus network and costs 3,5€ – better to buy a return ticket( “un aller retour”) and take the stress out of your return to the airport. (This service operates 7 days per week including bank holidays)

Regular bus services connect the airport directly with all main towns on the riviera including Antibes, Cannes, Fréjus, Saint-Raphaël and Monaco. This efficient service saves you an unnecessary journey into Nice if your destination is elsewhere.

For transport information Tel. 00 33 (0)4 93 21 30 83
http://riviera.angloinfo.com/information/1/busses.asp

By Road – It takes approximately 9 hours to drive from Paris to Nice. The city is best approached by the A8 from Aix en Provence (The motorways or “autoroutes” are prefixed by the letter A). There are 5 exits:
No 50: Promenade des Anglais – brings you into the centre
No 51: Saint-Augustin
No 52: Saint-Isidore
No 54: Nice-Nord
No 55: Nice-Est

By Train - Arriving by train brings you into the heart of the city and the journey is not without charm as you ride past the wild rocky coastline into the sumptuous landscape of the Riviera. Direct from Paris by high speed TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse). There are 4/5 arrivals in summer, 2 in winter. Journey time approx. 5 hours 30min. Arrival at Nice’s SNCF railway station on Avenue Thiers - just along from Hotel Ibis. TOP TIP – if you travel before the weekend and return after, your tickets will be even cheaper! Visit www.sncf.fr and click on the union jack for prices and bookings.

By Boat – The most regal way to arrive is by sea, you will be transfixed as that dot on the horizon imperceptibly turns itself into the Queen of the Riviera – Nice. The Port is situated just a few minutes on foot from the city’s main tourist attractions (Old Nice, Place Massena, shopping areas, Acropolis Convention Centre etc) There is a 10-ha basin, 7 ha of platforms and 10 wharves.

Capitainerie du Port de Plaisance. Tel. 00 33 (0)4 92 00 42 14 or see www.riviera-ports.com/ports/nice-port.htm

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