From top-notch Provençal cuisine to cultural venues that rival those in Paris, Nice’s abundant offerings are manifold. Long-time local Kathryn Tomasetti shares the best spots to see, sip and savour the Côte d’Azur’s cosmopolitan capital.
Nice is famous for its elegant promenade, so take advantage of the early hour and head to the beach to enjoy the seafront before it’s packed out with people. Squeeze in an early morning swim along the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), go for a jog or pedal the promenade on a Vélo Bleu (04 9372 0606 or sign up online) shared bike, close to 2,000 of which are dotted around the city. Having earned your breakfast, a trip to the pedestrianised Cours Saleya fruit and vegetable market is in order. Locals crowd the smaller producers’ stalls, stocking up on fresh goat’s cheese, black Niçoise olives and punnets of mara des bois strawberries. On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than shopping for your own picnic breakfast here. Pick up fougasses (Provençal bread stuffed with fillings such as garlic-infused mushrooms or roasted aubergines), onion-topped pissaladière pizza and tourte de blettes (savoury or sweet Swiss chard tart that’s a Niçoise speciality) from nearby bakery La Fougasserie (5 rue de la Poissonnerie, 04 9380 9245). Then hop back over the road to enjoy your spread on Nice’s public beach.
After breakfast, stroll around Vieux Nice (Old Town). This stunning warren of winding streets and pastel-hued Italianate buildings is pinched between Nice’s Jardin Albert 1er, the Promenade des Anglais and the port. Pop into the 17th-century Cathédrale Sainte Reparate (3 place Rossetti, 04 9392 0135), dedicated to Nice’s patron saint. This baroque church is lined with 10 smaller chapels, each decorated in ornate religious paintings. For sweeping seascapes – as well as unbeatable snaps over the city’s skyline – head back to the Promenade des Anglais and take the Tour Bellanda lift (which is now delightfully free) up to the Colline du Château, a hilltop park scattered with the ruins of an ancient castle. After you’ve made your way back down, be sure to explore the neighbourhood’s verdant Promenade du Paillon. Dotted with olive trees, a life-sized replica statue of Michelangelo’s David and plenty of kids’ play areas, this lively park stretches from Place Garibaldi all the way down to the sea.
Continue over to Boulevard Dubouchage and jump on bus 15, which winds its way along a road lined with glorious Victorian mansions up to Cimiez. It was here that the Romans constructed the city of Cemenelum, a thriving community from the first to the fourth centuries AD. Visit the neighbourhood’s exquisite Musée Matisse (164 avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, 04 9381 0808). Artworks – from paintings and drawings to sculptures and photographs – are arranged over an 18th-century villa, and exhibits span the whole of Matisse’s illustrious career. Just downhill from here, the Musée National Marc Chagall (Avenue Docteur Ménard, 04 9353 8720) centres around 17 of the artist’s large-scale paintings, which explore biblical themes. The bright space is also home to colourful mosaics, stained glass windows and a lush Mediterranean garden, plus a rotating selection of artworks from the museum’s permanent collection.
By now you’ve likely worked up a hearty appetite. Take bus 15 back downhill from Cimiez and wander over to avenue Jean Médecin’s downtown shopping district. For a market-fresh take on traditional French cuisine, head to family-run Le Petit Café (11 bis rue Grimaldi, 09 8437 6104). Daily specials may include confit de canard (duck confit) and spicy horseradish-laced steak tartare. Alternatively, nip over to Maido (29 rue Tonduti de l'Escarène, 04 9387 9728) for Japanese tapas. The lunch menu (€10-€12) is a steal. It includes three to four different mini-dishes such as gyoza dumplings or delicately flavoured pork stew with bok choy. After lunch, visit the Théâtre de la Photographie et de l'Image (27 boulevard Dubouchage, 04 9713 4220), the only dedicated photography museum in Nice. Recent exhibitions have showcased images by superb street photographer Martin Parr, as well as a retrospective of legendary Steve McCurry’s works.
As the afternoon draws to a close, shop for unique souvenirs along the boutique-dotted Rue Bonaparte. Pick of the pack is Italian-owned Lucien Chausseur (6 rue Bonaparte, 09 6711 5214), stocked with Italian-made leather shoes, belts and silky scarves. Handcrafted bijoux and funky handbags adorn the interior of hip accessories shop, L’Envol (40 rue Bonaparte, 04 9722 2502). And for sweet flavours to fuel your shopping extravaganza, little can beat the raspberry-topped tartelettes or melt-in-your-mouth lychee macarons at Déli Bo (5 rue Bonaparte, 04 9356 3304).
It’s time to kick back and relax with a pre-dinner aperitif at Le Comptoir Central Électrique (10 rue Bonaparte, 04 9314 0962). This ex-electrical warehouse mixes eclectic décor with Provençal rosé and tasty nibbles. Or head further east to healthy hotspot Nice Life (15 boulevard Lech Walesa). This welcoming juice bar and vegetarian café dishes up fresh fruit smoothies and high-vibe raw snacks.
Vieux Nice is the most picturesque place in the city for evening dining. Nestled into the neighbourhood’s tangle of backstreets, Bar des Oiseaux (5 rue Saint-Vincent, 04 9380 2733) was once one of the quarter’s lively nightclubs. As of late, it’s been transformed into the friendliest of neighbourhood restaurants, blending delectable homemade pasta with lashings of fresh seafood and cured meats. At nearby Carré Llorca (3 rue de la Préfecture, 04 9392 9586), popular regional recipes, such as Niçoise salad, pancake-like chickpea socca and courgette flower fritters, are dished up under the guidance of Michelin-starred chef Alain Llorca. 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 offers a little something for everyone. Le Jam (10 rue du Commandant Raffali, 04 8253 2929) organises regular themed evenings, from funk to classical music or jazz. For trendiness galore, champagne bar L’Effervescence (10 rue de la Loge, 06 7615 1852) is hidden away in a cave-like cellar in the Old Town. Nearby Bliss Bar (12 rue de l'Abbaye, 04 9316 8238) is petite but pumping, with pop art on the walls and excellent DJs that ensure its dance floor is perennially packed, while mega-disco High Club (45 promenade des Anglais, 04 9396 6800) has an assortment of rooms and tunes to keep the crowds shimmying until sunrise.