Nice offers an exceptional quality of life: shimmering Mediterranean shores, the very best of Mediterranean food, a unique historical heritage and Alpine wilderness within an hour's drive. No wonder so many young French people aspire to live here and tourists keep flooding in.
Admittedly, Nice's beaches are pebbly. On the other hand, there are a lot of them and most are free, warm and clean as a whistle. The city itself is brash and bold and enormously popular, so if you're looking for a place of Zen-like peace, head to the surrounds.
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Overlooking the legendary Baie des Anges and the historic center of Nice, this hotel is the perfect base for exploring the region.
What To Do
The landscape of the Alpes-Maritime area is perfect for a variety of activities, including hiking, mountain biking and horse riding in the nearby Parc National du Mercantour. For downhill skiing, the closest resort is Gréolières (1400-1800m/4600-5900ft), which is 60km (37mi) away.
What To See
Located about 2km north of the centre, in the leafy quarter of Cimiez, the Musée Matisse houses a fascinating assortment of works by Matisse, documenting the artist’s stylistic evolution. Its permanent collection is displayed in a red-ochre 17th-century Genoese villa overlooking an olive-tree-studded park. Temporary exhibitions are hosted in the futuristic basement building.
Promenade des Anglais
Palm-lined promenade des Anglais, paid for by Nice’s English colony in 1822, is a fine stage for a stroll. It’s particularly atmospheric in the evening, with Niçois milling about and epic sunsets over the sea. Don’t miss the magnificent facade of Hôtel Negresco, built in 1912 for Romanian innkeeper Henri Negresco, or art deco Palais de la Méditerranée, saved from demolition in the 1980s and now part of a four-star palace. The promenade follows the whole Baie des Anges (4km) and has a cycle and skating lane. For a fantastic family outing, rent skates or scooters at Roller Station and whizz along the Prom. You’ll need some ID as a deposit. Rentals include protective gear (helmet and pads).
Nice’s old town, a mellow rabbit warren, has scarcely changed since the 1700s. Retracing its history – and therefore that of the city – is a highlight, although you don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy a stroll in this atmospheric quarter. Vieux Nice is as alive and prominent today as it ever was.
Colline du Château
From this 92m hilltop park, the glittering views of the Vieux Nice spires and Baie des Anges are mesmerising. The shaded hill and park, at the eastern end of quai des États-Unis, are named after a 12th-century château that was razed by Louis XIV in a fit of pique in 1706 and never rebuilt. To reach the park you can walk up montée Lesage, climb the steps at the eastern end of rue Rossetti or take the ascenseur (elevator) under Tour Bellanda.
We love Smarties’ sexy ’70s swirly orange style, which draws a hot-looking straight-gay crowd. On weekends the tiny dance floor fills when DJs spin deep house, electro, techno and occasionally disco; weekdays are mellower.
Le Bar des Oiseaux
Artists dig this bohemian bar (and adjoining theatre) for live jazz, chanson française (French songs) and cabaret nights. You can also dine here.
If you had to pick only one of Nice's fêtes, it would have to be its internationally famous Carnival, which is held in the second half of February. Dating back to the 13th century, the celebration had many different shapes and purposes before turning into the one we know today.
In March, the gardens of the monastery at Cimiez are host to Nice's Festin des Cougourdons, celebrating oddly shaped decorative dried squashes - some are even used as percussion instruments! The celebrations include a mass, dancing, performances of folk music and sales.
In June, Nice celebrates its patron saints, St Peter (patron of fishermen) and St John, and in October its local St Réparate with more masses, processions, music and dancing.
Since 1948, Nice has hosted a Jazz Festival in July, with performances by international artists. The summer is marked by a series of musical events: a Festival of Sacred Music in June, the Festival Voucalia de Musique Méditerranéenne in July, and the Nuits Musicales de Nice in July and August.
Food and Drink
Simple, solid Niçois cuisine by former Michelin-starred chef Dominique Le Stanc draws the crowds to this pocket-sized bistro (you’ll be rubbing back and shoulders with fellow customers). The tiny open kitchen stands proud at the back of the room, and the equally small menu is chalked on the board. No credit cards.
Going strong since 1927, locals flock to Acchiardo for the plat du jour (daily special), a glass of wine and a load of gossip served straight up on the counter.
Les Distilleries Idéales
Whether you’re after an espresso on your way to the cours Saleya market, or an aperitif before trying out one of Nice’s fabulous restaurants, Les Distilleries is one of the most atmospheric bars in town. Tables on the small street terrace are ideal for watching the world go by.
The cuisine of Salsedo, a young chef who’s built a fine reputation, is local and seasonal. His menu (which, unusually, caters well for vegetarians) changes every 10 days to reflect the mood of the market stalls. The food is delightful and served without pomp on plates, rustic boards or authentic cast-iron pots. The wine list is another hit, with an all-French cast from white to red and rosé.