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Far more than just an impressive coastline, Nice offers something for everyone from foodies to modern art fans to ardent clubbers. Regular visitor Poppy Dinsey shares the best spots to discover, dine, drink and dance in the Côte d’Azur’s cosmopolitan capital.
Take advantage of an early start by enjoying the magnificence of Nice’s 7 kilometre long seafront in relative tranquillity. This is a great time to take in the scenery (not to mention take some envy-inducing photographs) before the crowds descend. Enjoy a swim, a jog or even a bike ride (the Vélo Bleu hire bikes are everywhere) as locals walk their dogs and fellow tourists are still enjoying their hotel breakfasts. Speaking of breakfast, you’ll find wonderful homemade breads, pastries and jams at La Femme du Boulanger (3 rue du Commandant Raffali, 04 8903 4303) or if you prefer to get amongst it then wander over to the pedestrianised Cours Saleya fruit and vegetable market. There you’ll find everything you need for a scrumptious beach picnic and you can pick up fougasse (Provençal bread stuffed with fillings such as garlic-infused mushrooms or roasted aubergines) and onion-topped doughy pissaladière at the nearby bakery La Fougasserie (5 rue de la Poissonnerie, 04 9380 9245).
You’ll have become acquainted with part of Nice’s Old Town (Vieux Nice) if you headed to the market for your breakfast, but there’s plenty more to see beyond the flower stalls and fresh produce. Forget trying to follow a map and just let yourself explore the winding streets and pastel-hued buildings for half an hour or so. Pop into the ornate Cathédrale Sainte Reparate (3 place Rossetti, 04 9392 0135) to admire the altar and paintings. It has been the Catholic heart of the city for 400 years and is dedicated to Nice’s patron saint. For sweeping seascapes – as well as unbeatable snaps over the city’s skyline – head back to the Promenade des Anglais and begin the climb up to the Colline du Château, a hilltop park scattered with the ruins of an ancient castle. If the steps look too daunting (the summit is 93 metres) there’s a free lift that takes you most of the way.
Heading back down to sea level and continuing your way along the Promenade, you’re in the perfect place to explore the pretty area around Port Lympia. You’ll often see gigantic cruise ships as well as the superyachts of the mega-rich. If you built up an appetite climbing the steps to Colline du Château then pop a few streets back to Chez Pipo (13 rue Bavastro, 04 9355 8882) where you can try Nice’s infamous socca, a savoury chickpea pancake which truly deserves its cult status. Depending on your preferences for modern artists, you could now jump on bus 20 from the port and head to Cimiez where you’ll find the famous Musée Matisse (164 avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, 04 9381 0808) and Musée National Marc Chagall (Avenue Docteur Ménard, 04 9353 8720) or you could go for a more comprehensive overview and walk just fifteen minutes over to MAMAC Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Place Yves Klein, 04 9713 4201). MAMAC covers everything from American pop art to European New Realism in beautiful marbled surroundings.
Need a bit of a break? The 19th-century Jardin Albert 1er public park (2-16 Avenue de Verdun) is palm lined and has lots of shady spots thanks to the mature trees, while the dancing fountains on the neighbouring Promenade du Paillon prove particularly alluring when it’s really hot. You’re in the right spot for lunch here too, with Terres de Truffes (11 rue St Francois de Paule, 04 9362 0768 ) offering set lunch menus which - as the restaurant name suggests – are designed around celebrating France’s beloved truffles. For salads, pizzas and pastas there’s Attimi (10 place Massena, 04 9362 0022) or if you’d prefer to watch the waves lap the shore, Ruhl Plage (1 promenade des Anglais, 04 9387 0970) is the place for you.
It would be a shame to miss out on some shopping and having had a rather cultured morning you’ve more than earned the right to have a nosey around avenue Jean Médecin’s shopping district and the neighbouring designer boutiques on Rue Paradis. Before you head there, you must take in the chocolatey delights of the glorious Maison Auer (7 rue Saint-François de Paule, 04 9385 7798). Chocolates, candied fruits, sweets and other treats have been sold from this shop since 1820. No doubt loaded with edible gifts, it’s only a couple of streets now to avenue Jean Médecin and once you’ve exhausted the shops you’ll be very close to the Basilique Notre Dame de l’Assomption (2 Rue d'Italie, 04 9388 7363). This is Nice’s largest church and it’s magnificent. For an equally impressive contrast you should head for the nearby Russian Orthodox Church (2 avenue Nicolas II, 09 8394 7155) where for a moment you’ll think you’ve hopped over to Moscow.
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to see inside Hôtel Le Negresco (37 promenade des Anglais, 04 9316 6400) then a pre-dinner aperitif in their historical bar may be just the ticket. Richard Burton once forgot Elizabeth Taylor’s million dollar emeralds on a bar stool in here, which should give you an idea of the kind of things this bar has seen over the years. Le Hussard’s rooftop (3 rue Saint-François de Paule, 04 9381 9381) is another fabulous place to start your evening, with the martinis coming highly recommended.
Vieux Nice is the most picturesque place in the city for evening dining. At Carré Llorca (3 rue de la Préfecture, 04 9392 9586), popular regional recipes such as Niçoise salad, socca and courgette flower fritters are dished up under the guidance of Michelin-starred chef Alain Llorca. You may notice queues for La Voglia (2 rue Saint-François de Paule, 04 9380 9916), which is indicative of the quality of the homemade pastas and pizzas here. The seafood pastas are especially popular but the profiteroles deserve a special mention too, especially if you believe that bigger is always better. For something completely different, Le Dehli Belly (22 rue Barillerie, 04 9392 5187) is a marvellous little Indian restaurant where vegetarians will be spoilt for choice if they opt for one of the very reasonably priced thalis. Be sure to save space for dessert at famous ice-cream parlour Fenocchio (2 place Rossetti, 04 9380 7252). Going strong since 1966, Fenocchio’s menu of more than 100 bizarre ice-cream flavours includes lavender, rose, avocado, chilli chocolate, jasmine, black olive and poppy seed.
Nice’s nightlife is all the better for mixing it up. Le Jam (10 rue du Commandant Raffali, 04 8253 2929) hosts regular live music nights, from funk to classical music or jazz. The dancefloor at Master Home (11 rue de la Préfecture, 04 9380 3382) is petite but pumping and the cocktails come decorated with so much fresh fruit that you can almost chalk this place up as a healthy night out. It doesn’t get going until much later in the evening, but if you want to dance into the early hours with locals rather than hoards of tourists then ring the doorbell at Le Ghost (3 rue Barillerie, 04 9392 9337). You may just find yourself staying there until sunrise.