Nice has always been a contradiction. A playground for the world’s rich and famous – and a battleground for serpentine and corrupt public officials. A huge bustling city, the fifth largest in France and a pleasant seaside resort that attracts all ages and classes. A city with the best collection of galleries and important art outside – and a place awash with tawdry, gold encrusted Eastern European entrepreneurs whose behaviour would make Mrs Beckham blanch with embarrassment. Yep, this place has it all.

La Tête au Carré (The Square Head)
Outside art in Nice: La Tête au Carré (The Square Head) (c) Martino Matijevic

Nice is literally and metaphorically a city for all seasons. A place that slowly catches up on you and ambushes you with its charm. It gets under your skin until one day you realise you’ve fallen head over heals in love with its energy, its passion for the easy life and its contradictions.

Thanks mainly to the no frills airlines, Nice is going through something of a renaissance with thousands of Brits a week pouring into the city looking for sun, entertainment, real estate opportunities and in some cases even a new life. The local council has responded with a massive clean-up operation and new transport links around the city, including a brand new tram system that will make getting around the city so much easier.

Nice Old Town
Nice Old Town (c) Martino Matijevic

A good introduction to the “Belle of the South” is the Old Town of Nice. You can easily spend a day walking up and down its narrow streets and lanes surrounded by art galleries, bars, clubs, shops and an unbelievable number of restaurants.

Still in the Old Town and just back from the seafront is the famed Cours Saleya, a pedestrian thoroughfare with a deeply perfumed flower market at one end and a hundred-stall food market at the other. Farmers from the surrounding hills pile their pitches high with lush fruit and vegetables, meats, spices and breads from dawn to lunch Tuesday to Sunday.

Fruit and vegetable market in Nice
Fruit and vegetable market in Nice (c) Martino Matijevic

If you’re lucky enough to be in the Saleya on a Monday the market transforms into one of the largest antique markets along the entire coast.

After a day of touring the town, a walk along the Promenade des Anglais is a must. With the deep blue of the Baie des Anges on one side and the sublime Belle epoque and earlier architecture on the other. The vibrant and bustling promenade is over seven kilometres long with the landmark Hotel Negresco at the centre.

Matisse Museum, Nice
Matisse Museum, Nice (c) flickr/takato marui

Stop off along the way at the newly renovated Hotel de la Méditerranée and have coffee or a cocktail at the luxurious first floor bar with views of the beach and the promenading locals Nice deserves its title as the cultural city of the south. If you’re enriched by the civilizing properties of art, music and culture then Nice is the place for you. With its spectacular Matisse Museum hidden away in an immense olive grove high above the city, to the famed Modern Art Museum, and the largest collection of Marc Chagal’s work in the world there is something for everyone.

Marc Chagall Museum, Nice
Marc Chagall Museum, Nice (c) flickr/Janet McKnight

The music scene is just as healthy, from the grandness of the Nice Opera with its ballet, opera and classical music concerts to the less salubrious and countless live music venues in the Old Town.

If you like Jazz try the Bar des Oiseaux at 5 rue Saint Vincent and if good old rock and roll is more your thing, at last count there where 12 live venues in the Old Town catering to music from the 60’s to the 90’s. And needless to say with a city full of international universities the club scene is extensive and exhausting. Try the Casa del Sol at 69, Quai des Etats-Unis. It’s dark, stylish and trendy and its DJs spin house and disco tunes until the early hours.

Nice panorama from the Colline du Chateau
Nice panorama from the Colline du Chateau (c) Martino Matijevic

After all that if you feel like a peaceful respite surrounded by park land, waterfalls, Roman ruins and the best view in Nice, try a walk up to the Colline du Chateau. At the end of the Promenade des Anglais is a promontory that rises above the colourful chaos below. There is a lift to the top at the end of the Rue des Ponchettes, but you really should try the steps. On a clear day you can see the Mountains of the Maures behind St.Tropez to the South and the Alps to the North. After many years in the doldrums Nice is fast becoming the destination city of the Riviera. It’s big enough not to have a season so you can enjoy its vivacious, cheeky and laid back approach to life all year round.

You could spend years getting to know the real Nice, but even a short stay can fill you with an enthusiasm and an overwhelming desire to come back again and again to a city that has a real talent for reinvention.




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Useful addresses:

  • Matisse Museum – 164 avenue des Arenes de Cimiez. Tel: 04 93 81 08 08. Open year round except Tuesday and some public holidays. Admission 4 euros. Free on the 1st and 3rd Sun of very month for the under 18’s.
  • Musée des Beaux-Arts – Collection of paintings and sculptures (over 600 works) from15th to the 20th century. 33 avenue des Baumettes. Tel: 04 92 15 28 28. Open all year round except Monday and some holidays. Admission 4 euros. Free on the 1st and 3rd Sun of very month for the under 18’s
  • Musée National Marc Chagall – The largest public collection of works by Chagall. Avenue du Docteur Menard. Tel: 04 93 53 87 20. Open all year round, except Tuesday and some public holidays. Admission 5.5 euros, 18 to 25 year olds 4 euros, free if your under 18.
  • The Modern Art Museum – Showcase for the “school of Nice” and avant-garde artists from Europe and the USA, from the ‘sixties to the present day. Famous white marble clad building next to the old town. Promenade des Arts. Tel: 04 93 62 61 62. Admission 4 euros, Free on the 1st and 3rd Sun of very month for the under 18’s
  • The Hotel Palais de la Mediterranee – 15 Promenade des Anglais; Tel: 04 92 14 77 20; If you want classy food with a spectacular menu without pompous service this first floor restaurant offers it all. Expensive but worth it.
  • Grand Balcon – Rue St Francois de Paule. Tel: 04 93 81 26 62; An elegant restaurant with an outdoor eating terrace. Situated right next to the Opera house. With superlative dishs like wild sea bass risotto, cod and coconut curry and an eye filet to die for, drizzled with thin slices of foie gras. Moderate to expensive.
  • La Part des Anges – 17 rue Gubernatis; Tel: 04 93 62 69 80; This is a favorite restaurant of the author. Run by a young couple, a mix between a classy wine shop and a small discreet and relaxed restaurant at the back of the cellar. The wine can be served by the glass and bottles are sold at the same price as the shop – a real bargain with over 1200 wines available. Uncomplicated meat dishes, just like granny used to make (if she was French) served with great panache and flavour.
  • Cafe de Turin – 5 place Garibaldi; Tel: 04 93 62 29 52; This is simply the best seafood restaurant in Nice. It’s an institution that does not try to do anything else but serve the freshest seafood available. The best selection of oysters you can image with all sizes and types represented on the menu, as well as fresh crab, lobster, prawns. Its noisy, there’s no table clothes, the service is abrupt and the queues to get in are legendary. But it’s well worth the wait.