Nice provides pretty much everything you’d expect of the Cote d’Azur: sun, beaches, beautiful people and massive yachts.
But as a big city (the fifth biggest in France), not just a seaside resort, there’s much more to do in Nice than sunbathe, notably a clutch of world-class art museums. And Nice has a distinct identity of its own, too: it didn’t become part of France until 1860, it has its own language, Niçard (although today it’s rarely spoken), and it has its own distinctive food in the shape of socca (a delicious local pancake).
1. Rollerblade along the Promenade des Anglais
This famous four-kilometre walkway, which runs right around the bay, was originally paid for by English visitors, who began using Nice as an ‘overwintering’ spot in the early 19th century. There are numerous public and private beaches along its length (tip: the beaches to the west are less crowded), and it’s _the _place for a sunset stroll; you’ll meet plenty of locals doing the same. But why stroll when you can rollerblade? Rent skates from Roller Station, and you can blade for miles along the flat promenade, even out past the airport.
2. Climb up Castle Hill
Castle Hill (Colline du Chateau) was once the site of a huge medieval fortress around which the town of Nice grew up but it was completely dismantled by the invading French army in 1706. Nowadays the hill hosts a botanical garden, and it offers beautiful views across the orange-tiled roofs of the town. As you climb the 200-odd steps to the summit through the lush green of the gardens, look out for the foundations of the old castle, as well as a surprisingly large (man-made) waterfall. But if it’s stiflingly hot, you may wish to avoid a sweaty climb by taking the free lift to the top instead.
3. Visit the Musée Matisse
French artist Henri Matisse relocated from Paris to Nice in 1917, and it was there, in the final years of his life, that he developed his famous cut-out technique. Diagnosed with cancer and confined to his bed after surgery, Matisse would cut out large, colourful shapes and direct his assistants on how to rearrange them, leading to famous works such as The Snail (1953). The Musée Matisse is housed in a 17th century villa and holds one of the world’s largest collections of Matisse artworks, including his famous cut-outs, and best of all, it’s free. Plus it’s surrounded by an extensive park studded with olive trees, ideal for a wander in contemplation after soaking up some art.
4. Go to the flower market
“Don’t miss the flower market!” It’s a phrase you will quite possibly hear many times during your stay in Nice from helpful hotel clerks, locals and other tourists, jealous work colleagues. It’s enough to make you avoid going. But on the other hand it’s also impossibly picturesque, rammed as it is with candy-coloured awnings and cascades of flowers, set in the narrow streets of Vieux Nice. The market also sells food, so stock up on home-made cheese, bread and preserves. It takes place daily (except Mondays) from 6am to 5.30pm (but closes early on Sundays).
5. Eat socca
The Cote d’Azur doesn’t come cheap. Many of the restaurants and bars will give your wallet a real thumping, so thank goodness for socca: a Nice speciality that tastes fantastic and is super cheap to boot. Socca is a pancake made of chickpea flour, water and olive oil all cooked on a griddle, and it makes for a fine lunch after a long morning at the beach (oh, what a chore), particularly when paired with an ice-cold glass of rosé wine. Chez Pipo is a particularly popular spot for socca (and venerable too, it opened in 1923), while Chez René Socca just off Place Garibaldi is something of a local institution.
6. Fly to Monaco in a helicopter
Monaco is only about 20 kilometres from Nice, so it’s worth a visit for its spectacular views and to see the famous grand prix track, not to mention the legions of fancy yachts. It’s easy enough to go by train, or even to drive, but why do that when you can act the oligarch by taking a helicopter? Heli Air Monaco offers flights from Nice airport to Monaco for around 140 euros per person, and they’ll even give you a lift to your chosen destination in town once you arrive. The flight only takes seven minutes, but it will provide a lifetime of bragging rights: “So anyway, I jumped on the chopper to Monaco…”
7. Stroll around the port
On the other side of Castle Hill, Port Lympia, lined with pastel-coloured 18th century buildings, is a good for a daytime stroll. Pick your favourite yacht, and guess how much they’re worth. The stakes are upped in this game at the deeper port of Antibes, home to the real megayachts. Once you’ve had your fill of excessively conspicuous consumption, try L’Ane Rouge for dinner. It may just look like any old seafront café from the outside, but it won a Michelin star and the food is not only stunning but also reasonably priced.
8. Go paddleboarding
Paddle boarding has swept the Cote d’Azur over the past few years. Basically it involves standing on a surfboard and gently swooshing yourself along using an elongated paddle. It makes a welcome change from noisy jetskis, and it certainly requires a lot less stamina than kite surfing or water skiing, although having said that, simply standing on the board gives your core muscles a great workout for. Another advantage over more energetic water sports is that it gives you time to contemplate the marine life darting to and fro beneath you in the clear blue water. There are several operators along the French Riviera: in Nice, go for Glisse Evasion.
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