Highlights of Stunning, Atmospheric French City: Nice, Cote d'Azur:
Nice, Cote d'Azur
There is nowhere quite like Nice. A sprawl of civilization backed by the beautiful Maritime Alps and framed by the magnificent bright blue Baie des Anges. The Cote d'Azur airport balances on a narrow strip of land at one end of the bay, and the atmospheric old town teems with activity at the other. In between is a city packed full with great opportunities for shopping, eating, sightseeing and more, and a potent fusion of French and Italian culture.
It is easy to fall in love with the atmospheric, narrow streets of the old town and how they are at such a contrast with the wide open spaces of other areas in the city. Place Massena for example boasts a bright and enormous square with a fountain and rows of pastel coloured arched buildings, often accompanied by classical musicians somewhere in the space.
The Nice Vielle Ville (old town) is a joy to wander around with no particular purpose. Just enjoy the flurry of activity in these historic streets and take your time choosing where to eat from the many al fresco cafes and restaurants. Piles of herbs, spices and scented goods all vie for attention on busy stands outside shops. Cafes and restaurants were bursting with life and tables took up every available space outside their restaurants. In the evening imaginative busking musicians took up residence and entertained us as we strolled by or sat down to eat. There was one chap who was playing four instruments, and singing and dancing all at once!
The reknowned flower market is a wonderful attraction. The intense colours and flurry of activity make great photo opportunities, and the food, herbs and spices also being sold are a great buying opportunity for tourists who have flown in and haven't a hope of buying a beautiful flowering cactus or bunch of colourful blooms. The flower market can be easily found on Cours Saleya - the little street in the Old Town running parallel to Promenade des Anglais.
The market is usually on every day except Mondays, and stops around midday-1pm.
The 'Nicetoile' shopping centre on Avenue Jean Médecin is easy to walk to from anywhere in the city, and by bus or tram. It is a great place to escape the heat for a spot of indoor shopping. There is a good mix of varied national stores with a typical French flavour and international stores.
Views from Castle Hill
At the East end of the beach, take the steps up to Castle Hill (where the road bends around the cliffs). The walk up this steep hill carries on until you reach the waterfalls at the top, and you can carry on even further. The stunning azure views of the Baie des Anges are the stuff of dreams and the splashes from the waterfalls at the top cool down the sweaty new arrivals after the climb (in summer of course). There is also a lift available, but this somewhat spoils the stunning views on the ascent.
Getting Around in Nice
Nice is very easy to get around, and most of it is easily walkable. There is a tram running through the centre on Avenue Jean Médecin. It has ticket dispensing machines at every stop (1 Euro 50 cents per journey). You can also buy a day pass. We had a nightmare trying to work out where the buses actually left from, until we realised there are stations dotted around the city depending on where you are going, but it is fairly easy to work out once you know what signs to look for! For a map of the bus stops and the bus numbers you need, go to the tram stops where there are large maps on the walls of the shelters.
Trains are affordable and a good option for getting out of the city. They are faster than the buses and tend to run later in the evenings. The train station (Gare de Nice Ville) is not far from the tramway running through the centre of the city on Avenue Jean Médecin.
Restaurants & Food in NiceThere are myriad opportunities in Nice's Vielle Ville (old town), and although many are busy tourist spots, there are some great restaurants with a reliably high standard of cuisine. Pizzas au feu de bois, pasta, and seafood are all in great abundance. Italian inspired cuisine is on offer everywhere due to Nice's proximity to Italy and its Italian past. Pasta Basta is a great option for pasta fans, where you can individually choose your type of pasta, whether you want it fresh or not, and what sauce you would like.
Cafe Turin at Place Garibaldi is the place in Nice for seafood (not far from the old town, and the tram line stops here). Of all the many seafood options in Nice, it's a particularly popular spot with tourists and locals alike, and on walking past into the old town, the fresh oysters, lobster and other seafood delights can be seen spilling from people's dishes in abundance.
Ice cream is a real delight in Nice, with so many different flavours (e.g. Pina Colada and Kinder) as well as traditional ones. With such a creamy and smooth texture you'll want to go back for more as soon as you've finished. It's very popular, so luckily there are stands and kiosks dotted around in many places, and in the square outside the cathedral in the Old Town is an enormous spread of choice.
For heading out of town to a further afield spot to enjoy some fine cuisine with stunning views, hilltop village Eze is easily reached by train or bus from Nice and has the most amazing panoramic views from five star Chateau Eza restaurant and hotel. They serve seasonal dishes with a traditional French flavour from an a la carte menu and a set menu, and they serve a wonderful array of amuses bouches for added taste and something to nibble on while you're waiting for your dish to be cooked from fresh. The outdoor sun-shaded terrace is the absolute best place to dine in the summer with sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean and surrounding hills.
The Beach in Nice
The entire city enjoys easy access to the beach as it is literally across the road (the Promenade Des Anglais which runs the length of the coast through Nice). Some areas are private or they belong to beachside cafes and you can rent a sun lounger. Our favourite stretch of 'free' public beach was outside the old town, within easy reach of delicious cafes and restaurants.
The beach in Nice has pebbles, however this does make things easier without the sand getting everywhere, and the pebbles are round and smooth rather than jagged. The waves can be quite powerful near the water's edge and the drop into the sea can be a little steep, however we saw lots of children having fun so it can't be that bad, and the waves make for a lot of fun on a lilo!
The beach has a great atmosphere and in the evenings many locals gather to enjoy the sea breeze, beautiful bright blue water, and share a bottle of wine. Once night we even sat on the beach with a pizza and some wine instead of eating at a restaurant!
Out of Town and Around Nice
Îles de LérinsWonderful beaches can be found all along the Cote d'Azur, however they are very popular and busy for the mostpart.
To get away from it a little, head over to the beautiful and natural Îles de Lerins from Cannes by ferry. The larger island Île Sainte-Marguerite has many little rocky coves and sandy beaches to choose from with crystal clear water. The island is pretty much a nature reserve and feels so remote it is hard to believe the glittering shores of the busy Cote d'Azur are just a few miles away. The smaller island Île St-Honorat is home to Monks, who have been inhabitants here since before the 11th century.
Hilltop Villages and Excursions to Other Interesting Places in the Cote d'Azur
The surrounding mountainous area behind the actual coastline hides some magnificent medieval towns and villages, including Vence, Vence St Paul, Eze, Biot and Grasse. For more information on these historic and wonderful places, each with their own creative traditions such as perfumery and glass-making, visit the link below:
Cote d'Azur: Hilltop Towns & Villages
Accommodation/Hotels in Nice
Grand Hotel Le Florence is a beautiful boutique hotel in a great location across from the tramway in a quiet street in the city centre not far from Place Massena, and a couple of minutes' walk from the neo-gothic Note Dame Cathedral.
An affordable and well-located hotel for the old town is the Ibis Styles (formerly an all seasons). It is just off Rue Bonaparte and Place Garibaldi in a quiet street, not far from the Port. A continental buffet breakfast is free and rooms are comfortable.
Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2013
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