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Nice work if you can get it…

Posted on July 26, 2017 by VINGT PARIS
IMAGE: VUE GENERALE PORT

The spectacular view over the natural harbour of Nice

The jewel in the crown of the Côte d’Azur, Nice continues to sparkle with its beguiling mix of seaside splendour, artistic heritage and great gastronomy – and much more besides…

 

Nice – welcome to ‘la vie au sud’. This gem of the French Riviera has long been one of the most sought-after European holiday destinations for those looking to escape northern climes for a bit of Vitamin D and to dip their toes in the Mediterranean. But Nice is more than just lazing by the beach; its architecture – a mish-mash of Beaux-Arts, Art Deco and social housing – somehow knits together and gives this city its inimitable flavour. Likewise, the people you’re likely to run into in Nice are a motley crew of elegant pensioners dressed in top-to-toe Dior (when of a certain age), tourists and families, as well as ‘colourful’ street people who may be accompanied by dogs on a string or cans of Heineken, or both.

Founded by the Greeks and later a retreat for 19th-century European elite, Nice is today regarded as the unofficial capital of the Côte d’Azur. To learn more about the history of the city, start with a visit to Vieux Nice, the warren of streets around the castle, which has only been fully accessible since 1921 when the river Paillon was covered over. Packed with cafés, gelaterias, pizza places and tourist tat shops, it is atmospheric if you divert off the main drag and delve deeper into the heart and soul of these historic streets. Rich in baroque architecture, churches and palais, be sure to seek out the Musée du Palais Lascaris for a gem dating back to 1647.

IMAGE: Photo showing local produce in the old town of Nice

Be sure to pick up some Provençal produce

Staying in the old part of the city, we recommend taking a breather at one of the two Fennicchio ice cream parlours. Founded in 1966, they offer an impressive 94 flavours (59 ices-cream and 35 sorbets), ranging from great classics to exciting innovations such as thyme, Rosemary, violet, tomato, basil, lavender and many more. For edible souvenirs, make your way to Confiserie Florian, once frequented by Matisse no less, and where you’ll find daintily-presented glazed fruit, candied flowers, delicious chocolates and exotic jams such as rose-petal preserve.

On the beach

And what of that mythical beach? For those unfamiliar with Riviera beaches, don’t expect to feel grains of soft, white sand underneath your feet – you’ll need a deckchair or mattress to get comfortable on this pebbly stretch. There are both public and private beaches, each with their own pros and cons and character. Depending on the season, you may have to fight for your patch, but if you opt to pay to access the private beaches, you’ll at least be able to secure your belongings in a locker while you take a dip.

All that sea air works up an appetite, and Nice’s gastronomy offers plenty of temptations. Not surprisingly, given its proximity, Italian influences feature prominently in the local cuisine, as of course does seafood. If you’re looking for somewhere authentic, search out Lou Pistou, a tiny neighbourhood bistro where you can queue up for Niçois specialties. One of the most famous local delicacies is socca, a chickpea flour pancake that tastes better than it sounds! Fried courgette flowers are also a must-try, and a vrai Soupe de Pistou is worth the wait.

Another good address is La Merenda – surely one of the only restaurants with no telephone, so you’ll have to go there in person to make a reservation. Be warned, it’s also pretty tight for space – and credit cards aren’t accepted either! However, the regional cuisine here, cooked up by a chef who left his two Michelin starts behind to reconnect with his passion for local dishes, is so good that it makes it all worthwhile. Be sure to wash it all down with a glass (or two) of chilled Provençale rosé.

IMAGE: COURS SALEYA VIEUX NICE

The popular market of Cours Saleya where you can buy flowers, vegetables and fruit

If you’re interested in trying your hand at making a few of these treats yourself, the Cours Saleya market, selling flowers, vegetables and fruit, is the place to go. Located at the foot of the town, close to Vieux Nice, it’s a real treasure with the most colourful produce. For a ‘real-life’ taste of the city, go north of the station to Marché Liberation where the locals do their shopping. Here you can find the freshest fruits de mer, a whole street of fishmongers and the best fruit and vegetables Provence has to offer. For vintage lovers, browsing the antiques selection at the Marche aux Puces will while away some hours.

Artistic heritage

Long a Mecca for artists, drawn to the stunning seaside setting and special light, the city has some great galleries to visit too. As one of Nice’s most famous former residents, Matisse has his own musée in the Villa des Arènes. Home to one of the world’s largest collections of his works, from paintings and drawings to objects belonging to the artist, it’s a real must during any visit to the city. Another ‘big one’ is the Musée de Marc Chagall, which was purpose-built to house the artist’s religiously themed works, including the 17 works illustrating the biblical message.

Elsewhere, the Villa Arson, an old aristocratic home, houses an elite art school but also an impressive contemporary art collection – and the large grounds are perched atop a hill with fabulous views overlooking the city and coastline. Alternatively, the beautiful simplicity of naïve art is celebrated at the Musée international d’Art Naïf Anatole Jakovsky, situated in an old chateau set in a large park. To get a feel for the ancient side of the town, head to Maison Adam and Eve, a home featuring the beautifully decorated bas-relief facades common to the region – this one dates from 1584 and features Adam and Eve fighting with clubs.

IMAGE: Traditional street scene in Nice

There’s a treasure around every corner in Nice

A place to stay

When it comes to places to stay, there’s a bewildering number of options – though none perhaps more famous than Le Negresco. The ‘Grande Dame of Nice’, this majestic hotel teeters on the Promenade des Anglais, named after the English aristocrats who flocked to the city in the 19th century. For many years, this was the only major French hotel owned and managed by a woman, the formidable Madame Jeanne Augier, an outspoken animal-lover. However, this five-star hotel also reflects Nice’s links to Italy in all its baroque glory. The rococo interiors of the rooms and the Regency-style restaurant, Le Chantecler, which has two Michelin stars, are a colour-bloc clash of hot pink, green and aqua marine. The effect is a bit like a graffiti standoff between Dali and Christian Lacroix, which is not to everyone’s taste, but the bar, with its walnut panelling, provides a more muted retreat.

Another place that comes highly recommended is the four-star Hôtel Ellington on the stylish boulevard Dubouchage. Inspired by Duke Ellington, the jazzy atmosphere of this four-star hotel is sure to appeal to any fans of the genre. What is more, the Duke Bar & Lounge offers not only a sunny patio but a daily Happy Hour. If it’s a room with a view that you crave, it’s hard to beat Le Méridien. Located on the seafront, the rooms offer magnificent vistas over the ocean and the city itself. For a memorable meal, the rooftop restaurant of this four-star hotel also offers a spectacular panorama out to sea. Last but by no means least, another one with magical skyline views is the contemporary Spity Hôtel (formerly the Hi Hotel), which comes complete with a rooftop pool.

In summary then, Nice is a city with more than one dimension – and the choice of how many you explore or get close to is entirely down to you. In any event, whether you consume the city’s history, culture or cuisine, or just soak up some of those Mediterranean rays, this jewel of the French Riviera has lost none of its lustre.

IMAGE: View showing the front entrance of La Merenda in Nice

A visit La Merenda is a must on any visit to Nice

PICK OF THE HOTSPOTS

WHERE TO SHOP…

Confiserie Florian
14 quai Papacino
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 55 43 50

Marché Cours Saleya
Cours Saleya

Marché Liberation
place de General de Gaulle
Avenue Malausséna

Marche aux Puces
place Robilante


WHERE TO VISIT…

Maison Adam and Eve
Corner of Rue de la Poissonerie and Cours Saleya

Musée International D’Art Naïf Anatole Jakovsky
Château Sainte-Hélène,
avenue de Fabron
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 71 78 33

Musée Matisse
164 avenue des Arènes de Cimiez
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 81 08 08

Musée National Marc Chagall
avenue du Docteur Ménard
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 53 87 39

Palais Lascaris
15 rue Droite
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 62 72 40

Villa Arson
20 Avenue Stephen Liégeard
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 07 73 73


WHERE TO EAT…

Fennicchio
2 place Rossetti
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 80 72 52

Fennicchio
6 rue de la Poissonerie
Tel: +33 (0)4  93 62 88 80

La Merenda
4 rue Raoul Bosio
(no phone available)

Le Chantecler
Le Negresco
37 promenade des Anglais
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 16 64 10

Lou Pistou
4 rue Raoul Bosio
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 62 21 82


WHERE TO STAY…

Hôtel Ellington
25 boulevard Dubouchage
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 47 79 79

Le Méridien 
1 promenade des Anglais
Tel: +33 (0)4 97 03 44 44

Hotel Negresco
37 promenade des Anglais
+33 (0)4 93 16 64 00

Spity Hôtel
3 avenue des Fleurs
+33 (0)4 97 07 26 26