By Gayle Roberts of Nice Pebbles (April 2007)
Sun, Fun, and oodles of sophistication can be found in the cosmopolitan city of Nice. Whether you’re a backpacker or a billionaire you will feel right at home here. With high class hotels and casinos, gourmet restaurants and classy bars, you can enjoy a real treat. If your wallet is more threadbare than bulging, you can take advantage of the thousands of value for money bars and restaurants where you will get much more for your money than most other vibrant European cities. It’s a city, but still a beach town – so you have everything you need for either a relaxing break or a party weekend – whatever your budget or preference for entertainment – you will not go wrong here.
Whilst many of the guidebooks warn of petty crime, in my experience of living here and meeting guests, Nice is very safe. Nonetheless, like with other major cities, do not leave your bag open or your wallet in your jeans back pocket. The best maps around are the large A3 maps offered for free at the Tourist office on the Promenade des Anglais.
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In July and August it is hot hot hot. And the rest of the year can be pretty damn good too. Bring your shades even in January. Even when it is chilly, it is still very bright. Nice benefits from a micro-climate and generally gets 300 days sunshine a year.
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Nice is a fantastic base from which to tour the rest of the Cote d’Azur. Nice’s excellent transport links are the envy of Europe and this will continue with the arrival of the tram in the Autumn of 2007.
From the airport, get the shuttle bus for 4 euros if you have lots of luggage – or the locals way if you do not is to catch the bus numbers 200, 400 and 500 (going to Nice) and just pay the standard bus fare (which is applicable for most journeys) of 1 euro 30.
With this fare, there is no need to hire a car, which is very expensive to park and often more hassle than it is worth.
Getting around by train is a good option, they are very fast, reliable and cheap. But, the bus can sometimes be just as good when you weigh up the queuing for ticket time or getting behind someone who does not know what they are doing on the self-service ticket machines. If you do want to plan trips around the Cote d’Azur by train though, don’t think you should get accommodation near the train station. This is the worst area of Central Nice and can be a little dodgy.
Don’t bother with taxis in Nice. They are very hard to come by, you cannot flag them down and taxi drivers often charge what they feel like. If you really need a taxi go to the rank across the road from the Meridian Hotel on the Promenade. That is the only sure way to find one. If you want to book in advance, make sure you give at least 6 hours notice! No really.
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Where to stay
Hotels in Nice range from very expensive to fairly pricy. Expect to pay between 90 euros to 250 euros a night for a hotel room in high season.
Budget accommodation in Nice is not fantastic, but these three are the most popular:
Hotel Meyerbeer Beach, 15 Rue Meyerbeer.
This hostel is in a good location and has the best reputation. It is near to the beach and restaurants and it caters for budget travellers well with lockers, internet, TVs, available snacks and optional breakfast. Credit cards are accepted and you can get a room from 25 euros a night.
Residence Hoteliere Ajoupa, Rue Massena
Situated in a good area of town this hostel has internet access, air-con and accepts credit cards. A room is available from 22 euros a night.
Faubourg Montmartre Hostel, 32 Rue Pertinax
Situated in quite a dodgy area near the train station, this is only recommended if you are in a group and will come back together late at night. It is the cheapest around and you can share a room from just 18 euros a night. It has a mixed reputation, but caters well for backpackers with internet, washing machines, snacks, lounge area etc. It is also fairly big and so will be able to accommodate a large group.
Moving up from hostels to hotels, it is likely you will be disappointed with your accommodation if you pay anything less than 40 euros a night so do choose carefully.
The best cheap and cheerful hotel, is a small boutique hotel called Villa La Tour and its location in the Old Town couldn’t suit travellers better. Near to the bus station and near all the action, I’d highly recommend it. It gets full very quickly as it only has about 8 rooms. They have a very small room for backpackers which is very compact, but well done and has everything you need for just 40 euros a night. It has its own website at www.villa-la-tour.fr . A standard room in high season (2 sharing) is 52 euros a night.
The Comfort Hotel is central, being half way between the port and the Old Town. It has 113 rooms and a standard double is around 100 euros a night in high season (July and Aug and festivals). For this you get air-con, safes, cable TV and internet access. You can find it on 8 Rue Emmaneul Philibert.
Hotel Dante to be found at 12 Rue Androili is a little bit out of the action (it will take you about 15 minutes to walk to the Old Town) but it is good value for money. All the 28 rooms have been recently refurbished with new beds.
Another alternative is to stay in an apartment. Nice Pebbles has a range of apartments in central nice to suit all budgets. “Croix” or “Emma” are the best for a group of budget travellers – the one bedroom apartments are on the large side and have sofa-beds, so this can work out much cheaper than a hotel when dividing by four, and you will get so much more for your money. You can take breakfast in the apartment and can spend a few nights cooking, which can really cut down on cost. You can check out Nice Pebbles at www.nicepebbles.com.
What to do
Discover the underwater world of wrecks, caverns, and reefs either on a full day trip, half day, or a night dive with Nice Diving. Located at the port at 14 Quai des Docks, there is a fully qualified English-speaking instructor available to cater for the needs of beginners, intermediates, and fully qualified PADI experienced divers. Book through their web site at www.nicediving.com or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For other local adventurous activities such as canyoning, rafting , and climbing, try the web site of Bureau Des Moniteurs du Pays Niçois.
The central hub of the shopping district centres around Avenue Jean Médecin, where the usual high street names such as Zara, H&M, Morgan, Etam, Virgin, and Sephora can be found.
Midway along is the Étoile Shopping Mall with its inexpensive shops selling shoes, fashion, and home furnishings. Turning off Jean Médecin onto Rue Massena will bring you even more high street chains such as Darjeeling, Blanc Blu, Footlocker, and MAC dotted around mid-ranged priced boutiques and one off shoe shops.
If your budget stretches a little further then you can head to Galeries Lafayette at Place Massena, this 13,000 square metre department store offers over 600 brands of merchandise offering stiff competition to the likes of Selfridges and Harvey Nichols.
If you have an appetite for designer fashion, then head to Rue de la Liberte , just off Place Magenta, where you can easily spend a whole day in the twenty or so upmarket chains such as Ikks, Arche, Tara Jarmon, or boutiques such as Isabelle.B, Carnet de Vol, and Indigo Blue. The new season's collections from couturiers such as Vivienne Westwood, Lavin, Givenchy, and J.P.G. Gaultier are all found here.
Zoo Cap Ferrat
The parc zoological is located in the north western part of the peninsula, just past the Office de Tourisme at St Jean Cap Ferrat. The zoo boasts over 300 animals with a bear mountain, tiger zone, crocodile beach and an African plain. Open every day, all year round. Tel: 04 93 76 04 98.
Antibes Land and Marine Land
Antibes Land is a theme park with rides and shows. It is open from June to September every day. Tel: 04 93 33 68 03.
Across the road is MarineLand which claims to be “the greatest marine show in Europe with dolphins, orcas and seals. Also there is a 30 m long shark tunnel. This is open every day all year round. Tel 04 93 33 55 77.
Zoos and Theme Parks
Slides, water, waves, inflatables. The water park is also in Antibes. This is open from mid June to the beginning of September. Tel 04 93 33 55 77.
Theatres and Exhibition Centres
The esteemed Theatre de Nice has a well-deserved reputation for first-rate performances and concerts. Occasionally, a touring English company takes a bow here. The information desk located opposite the Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain near Place Garibaldi, is open each afternoon until 7:00 p.m., except Sundays and Mondays. Ticket prices vary and you can pay anything between € 10 to € 50 for a ticket.
The Acropolis exhibition centre also hosts a wide variety of shows and concerts. Ask at the Tourist Office for more information on forthcoming attractions.
The Old Town is scattered with petite theatre houses, the most commercial of them, Theatre du Cours on Rue de la Barillerie just off the Cours Saleya. Whilst most of the theatre is French you may stumble across an English-language show. Look for posters and flyers on the theatre houses themselves to find them. Impromptu street theatre can be pretty good if you're lucky enough to catch it.
If you want to visit most of Nice's museums, then buy a seven-day museum pass for less than € 10. It's valid for all of Nice's museums except for the Musée Chagall and the Musée Departmental des Arts Asiatiques.
Nice's prized museum is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, or MAMAC, as it is locally known. It hosts works from the French and American avant-garde period from 1960 through to the present day. The major movements of the 60s and 70s are the highlights. Works by Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Niki de Saint Phalle, Alexander Calder, Jean Pierre Raynaud, and more are all featured. One room is devoted entirely to Klein. Follow the glass and steel bridges which bind the four marble towers to the roof-top garden and terrace. Open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily except Mondays and Bank Holidays.
Art lovers will want to head to the Matisse Museum which boasts a huge selection of engravings, drawings, and cut-outs spanning Matisse's entire career, but perhaps concentrating on the period from 1917 to 1954 when he settled here in Nice. The museum itself is an impressive, recently renovated, Genoese villa and is situated in the heart of an olive grove. It is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. Closed Tuesdays and some holidays.
Perhaps pay a pilgrimage to the National Bible Museum of Marc Chagall that houses the work of the Russian-born graphic artist. After the Second World War, Chagall settled in Vence, and between 1954 and 1967 painted 17 large religious-themed murals all on display here as well as many sculptures, sketches, and mosaics.
And for historians, the Musée d'Archeologie displays all the finds and details Nice's history up to the middle ages. The public baths and the amphitheatre can both be visited here.
For native art, why don't you visit the Musée International d'Art Naif Antole Jakovsky. A collection of over six hundred pieces from the 18th century to the present day and all are housed in the Chateau Ste-Helene, the former home of the parfumier Francois Coty.
Fans of Auguste Renoir may wish to visit his last home in Haut-de-Cagnes, just a short trip down the coast. The Domaine des Collettes is wonderfully preserved as though Renoir has just stepped out for coffee. Eleven original paintings, most of his sculpture, preparatory sketches, lithographs, and photographs can be viewed here as well as his personal possessions. Click here for some more information in French.
Finally, in the Phoenix Parc Floral de Nice, near to the airport, you can find the Musée Departmental des Arts Asiatiques. In a beautiful Japanese designed building next to a lake, you can find artworks from India, China, Japan, and Cambodia. Designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, it includes a ceremonial tea party. The museum is open everyday from 10 a.m.until 5 p.m., but closed Tuesdays.
The imposing Baroque Ste-Réparate Cathedral at Place Rossetti was built in honour of an early martyr, Ste-Réparate, who was beheaded by Roman Emperor Galius Decius for his Christian beliefs. It has remained a popular place of worship to this day. It is believed that archaeological vestiges of both the Greeks and Romans who settled here lie beneath this impressive church.
The chateau is now barely there and is no longer what brings hoards of tourists up the 92-metre hilltop. The landscaped park of the Colline du Chateau is now more famous for the spectacular panoramic view of sun-drenched rooftops, gleaming yachts bobbing gently at anchor, and the never-ending sweep of the Promenade des Anglais. Don't forget your camera! Also worth a look here are the Roman ruins of two cathedrals, the mosaics, the dramatic artificial waterfall, and the Bellanda Tower, as is the Cimitiere du Chateau, a Jewish cemetery, hailed as one of the most beautiful resting grounds in the world.
Almost hidden in the winding streets of Vieux Nice on Rue Droite is the beautiful façade of the Palais Lascaris which dates back to the 18th century. It is probably best appreciated after you have been inside. The Baroque palace, which is now a museum, houses a large collection of antiquities, including a recreation of a 19th century French pharmacy. It was the residency of the Lascaris – Vintimille family and remained their home until the French Revolution. The vaulted ceilings of the rooms are decorated with frescoes depicting mythological themes and the furniture and Flemish tapestries are reminicient of a bygone era. Opening hours are 10am to midday and then 2pm to 6pm except Tuesdays. Entrance is free but a guided tour, which is advisable, costs around 3 euros. Tours operate on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 3pm, but check as English tours are not guaranteed.
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Cafés and bars
Drinks can be expensive in Nice, especially draft beer. Take advantage of happy hours which are on in most places until 8 or 9 pm.
Watch out for ridiculous prices on the Cours Saleya at some bars. Sometimes it can be wise to check prices before ordering. We are still stinging from an absolutely awful bottle of wine which must have cost them less than a Euro to buy, but they charged us 29 euros, more expensive that a decent bottle in a restaurant.
THOR on 32 Cours Saleya is a popular bar that has been voted the number one venue on the French Riviera. Scandinavian atmosphere and an interesting array of theme nights, such as "Lady Thor" on Tuesdays, when the ladies get all the wine they can drink. The drink prices are very reasonable considering the location.
The live bands always bring out the crowds, as does a spirited "buy one, get one free" happy hour. A must for those looking for live music in a party atmosphere with a huge, diverse crowd.
Wayne’s bar on Rue de la Prefecture is run by a friendly team. The manager, Matt, is great and they all try very hard to make sure you are comfortable and that the entertainment is great. Table service with a smile and reasonable prices during happy hour until 9pm. There are often quizzes and theme nights and Justin, the entertainments manager is a very popular and funny host. Open until 2 am.
Ma Nolan’s, an Irish bar on the Cours Saleya is less smoky than Wayne’s and a lot more like a resto-pub. Again there is a happy hour until 9pm. The food is actually pretty good, especially burgers and chips if you need to sort out a hangover. It is also the best place to watch your team.
Tip: The bands who play at these three bars are often excellent. Check out one of our favourites – Merla, a successful band who take slots at festivals and have done support acts. Dave and Nick who head the band are great vocalists and very talented. They take their inspiration from bands such as Gomez and they often do covers and requests.
Another favourite is L’Idee Halle Bar on Rue de la Prefecture. It has a feel of an English pub but is certainly does not look like a chain. Occupied with many locals and a largely French crowd, it has a happy hour until 8 pm and serves platters of cheeses.
Le Frog at 3 Milton Robbins just off the promenade is another lively bar serving food and nightly live music. Again this is popular with locals and ex-pats.
Check point, just off the Cours Saleya is very popular with back-packers and serves cheap drinks.
Shadows on Benoit Bunico is a new bar with chill out area sofas and a retro-cool theme which is getting a reputation as the best small club in the Old Town.
Meridien Hotel on the promenade can be a fantastic place to start a special evening out. On the top of the hotel is a cocktail bar with panoramic views of the whole of Nice. Yes, prices are very expensive but the view and atmosphere can make it worth it.
Bar 6 just near the promenade is a gay club but welcomes all. It is small and cosy and the music and atmosphere lively.
Eventment on the promenade is Nice’s best known club. Huge, lively and open until after 3 am it remains very popular and is a safe bet.
Shopping district / Pedestrian Area
Karr on rue Alphonse Karr is one of Nice’s well known slick bars where champagne cocktails and vodka martinis are whisked out to the well dressed young crowd.
Le Lafayette at 64 Rue Giofreddo is a popular bar with eye catching deco and serves amongst the usual frozen fruit cocktails. The attached restaurant can be quite handy and is growing in popularity.
Love on the pedestrian strip is a chrome and wicker sophisticated styled bar. The atmosphere is chilled and it’s a good stop for a cocktail on your way home from shopping or on your way out.
Bodeguita del Havana on Rue Chauvain is the place to go for a fantastic atmosphere and Latin dancing.
Le Garand Escurial at 19 rue Alphonse Karr is Nice’s biggest and most famous club. Spanning over 16,000 square metres of dance space, it claims to be the biggest dance club on the Riviera.
A command of French is not essential at the flicks since many cinemas on the Côte d'Azur have version originale showings. Look for "VO" on the billboard. Just on from Monoprix in the Old Town at 16 Place Garibaldi is the Mercury, which usually has at least two of the lastest version originale films a night. Near the Negresco is the Rialto at 4 Rue de Rivoli, a bigger cinema again showing the vast majority Nice's best English-language films.
Bar de la Bourse – Rue Pairoliere, just off Place St Francois
Open lunch times only, and popular with the locals, there are no frills here, just cheap and plentiful well cooked traditional Nice cuisine such as onion tarte, daube and pasta. Don’t be put off by its tiny entrance, it’s reasonably sized once inside with a restaurant area downstairs and upstairs on a mezzanine. Do be prepared to wait for a table, but with three courses costing less than 15 euros and a fantastic atmosphere – be prepared to shout over the din – its worth the wait.
Closed Sundays and Mondays and every evening.
Bar du Coin – Corner of Rue Droite, just off Place St Francois 04.93.62.32.59
Great pizzas at between 7.50 euros to 10.80 euros and also good salads and fresh pasta. We highly recommend the “kits”, essentially a set menu of food and drink. Try the Kit Provencal for a Provencal pizza (our favourite), ¼ litre of red wine and for dessert goats cheese and honey all for 14 euros. A real bargain. This friendly run bistro also does pizza to take away and decent cocktails.
Socca Lou Pilha Leva 10 Rue du Collet (on the corner of Rue Centrale)
The cheapest meal in town. It is self-service and with a varied menu you could eat here all week and not get bored. It serves regional fare including the Niçois socca chickpea pancake, which is a great dish. Also on the menu are petit farcis, Niçois salads, fish fritters, pizza, torte, and pasta. Dishes from € 2-8.
Oliviera 8 Rue du Collet 04.93.13.06.45
A little pricy for budget purse-stings, but a treat. A unique shop where you can sample a varied selection of locally produced olive oils in its small adjoining restaurant. Each dish is carefully selected to complement the aroma and taste of the individual olive oil. Sample an olive oil to be used with avocado, another for goat cheese, and another for lasagne. There’s even an oil for tiramisu! The owner is friendly and enthusiastic. Specialty dishes from €14.
Le Tire Bouchon - Rue de la Préfecture
If you are feeling flush, head here. The menu is packed with rich dishes from southwestern France including cassoulet and scallops in white wine sauce plus more adventurous options such as lamb and apricot tajine. The desserts and dessert wine are plentiful and the scarlet décor and rustic feel adds to its romantic charm.
Table Alziari – 4 Rue Francois Zanin 04.93.80.34.03
Sometimes the simple menus are the best, and this is one of those times. The family run business that makes this famous oil offers up mouth-watering lamb daube as well as pates pistou tomate, goats cheese salad, sardines farcis, and braised veal. The homemade chocolate cake is also yummy. The best thing about Table Alziari is of course the can of Alziari oil which sits majestically on your table. Soak up a volonte, and drizzle away.
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Bien Venue – Rue St Francois 04.93.79.84.40
Friendly bistro run by two brothers from Stoke, England, this is the place for you if you fancy some well crafted food, still with a French theme, but also a familiar English core. It is pricy, but the “early bird” set menu between 7pm and 7.45pm is fantastic value at under 20 euros.
Au Vieux Four – 1 Rue Emmanuel Philibert, off Rue Cassini 04.93.89.00.89
Pizza Chef Pascal Fritsch was awarded for his Campagnarde Pizza, the best Pizza in the Cote D’Azur and the second best Pizza in the whole of France for 2006. Baked in a real wood stove, the very reasonably priced pizzas come out with a delicious paper thin crust. If pizza’s not for you, they also do good meat dishes and fantastic scallops. Whoever makes the tiramisu should also win an award. Temptingly displayed in the chiller cabinet it is absolutely melt in the mouth delectable and should not be missed. Ever. Closed Sundays and Monday evening.
There are thousands of snack bars and menus of the day to choose from. You can’t really get a bad meal in Nice so take your pick and see what you fancy. If you stay out of the touristy eating areas such as the Promenade and the Cours Saleya, you will get value for money whatever you choose.
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Info supplied by Gayle Roberts of Nice Pebbles (April 2007)