Nice: A wonderfully vibrant City in the south of France
Our short guide to Nice can only brush the surface of this wonderfully vibrant City in the south of France. Dating back to Roman times, it has a wealth of history just waiting to be discovered during your holiday to the region.
Back in the 18th century, the English aristocracy and wealthy visited the region as part of the journey through to Italy, exploring the historical sites of the classical world. The Grand Tour, as it became know as, crossed France to Marseilles and then sailed on a ship along the Mediterranean coast naturally stopping off in the small port of Nice.
Over the years it became a popular destination with the English who discovered the benefits of spending winter in the sun and warm climate as opposed to the cold and damp winters of the British Isles. There was a pier built in Victorian times and in 1964 the water front became an Esplanade and so the quintessentially English “Promenade des Anglais” was born. One can easily imagine, and often see in old photos, the crinoline dresses, top hats, umbrellas to shelter from the sun, strolling along this beautiful 7km long bay.
In the early 19th century Nice saw the arrival of other Nationalities, particularly the Russians who almost made it their second winter home, building the Russian Orthodox church, one of Nice’s finest buildings. And so Nice became a popular tourist destination for the Northern Europeans. In fact Nice was originally part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and its Italian influences can be seen in the architecture It was not until the Treaty of Turin was signed in 1860 that the City of Nice became French.
If it is your first visit to Nice, then as with any large city, the decision on where to go and what to see will never be easy. Perhaps starting with the Place Masséna, a magnificent square which extends into the Promenade Paillon with its water fountain features, long walk way leading to a wonderful adventure playground for children and adults alike. As well as the usual playground equipment, there are climbing frames and much more. For the adults you will find exercise bikes and ski machines to increase your fitness levels. At the seafront end of this lovely area is the Jardin Albert 1st with its large ferris wheel which is often the centre piece of the funfairs that come to Nice during large events such as the Nice Carnival and Christmas Fairs.
A short walk away from the Place Masséna brings you to the colourful, scented and vibrant Cours de Saleya, Nice Flower Market. Open every day of the week, (except Mondays) it is full of incredible floral displays, bouquets and plants as well as a plethora of fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, charcuterie and usual Provençal wares of herbs, oils, soaps and scents. Arrive around 9am and enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the market side, fresh croissants, coffee and take in the sights and sounds, then venture in to the heart of the market. Don’t miss sampling Socca, a pancake made of chick pea flour and olive oil, a typical Niçoise delicacy.
Meandering through the back streets and alleyways, Provençal scents will follow you everywhere. Arrive into the Place Rossetti and visit the ice cream Parlour of Fenocchio.
With incredible flavours from Almond to Iced Chestnut, or Tutti Fruitti to Salted Caramel, and seemingly ordinary Vanilla – be adventurous and try some of their amazing and unusual tastes.
At the end of the Promenade des Anglais is the Colline du Chateau. Follow the steep pathway up the hill or take the lift to the Chateau. The Roman ruins (destroyed some 300 years ago) are set in a pine covered park land. Climb a little further up the steps to the plateau at the top and take in probably one of the best views of Nice you will ever see. On a clear day you will see St Tropez. Overlooking the old town of Nice from this vista will enthral and captivate.
On the opposite side to the Place Massena, is the pedestrianised and shopping areas and the large shopping Mall of Nice Etoile all situated along and around the Avenue Jean Medecin. Taking a return trip on the Nice Tram along the Avenue, up to the back of Nice is a great way to see the different districts and taking in glimpses of life, outside of tourism and the Niçoise way of life.
Nice doesn’t stop there. There is the Vieux Port where the ferries arrive from Corsica, or large private yachts anchor or occasionally the cruise ships will use as a drop off terminal having anchored in the Bay of Villefranche. The oblong port is lined with beautifully restored, Renaissance style buildings in rich red ochres. An area worthy of a visit in its own right.
If it is the beach you are seeking for your stay in and around Nice, you may be surprised to know that the 7km long beaches are mostly pebbles. However, with a great choice of private beaches, lined with cushioned sun loungers, parasols and seafront restaurants, a day lazing and swimming can be a joy. If you don’t want to pay, then bring a towel, that is all you need to take in the ozone and swim in the azur blue sea.
Conveniently placed as a Hub for other tourist destinations, Villefranche sur Mer is just around the corner. A breathtaking vista will appear as you round the coastal corner into the Bay of Villefranche, one of the worlds most deepest natural bays. Edged by a most pretty village dating back to 13th century, it is captivating to see, let alone wander through.
It is a short drive to the Principality of Monaco and for many a visit to Monte Carlo is high on the agenda when in the area.
Perhaps you would not think of ski-ing when visiting Nice. Many do not realise that the Alps are so close and the Ski Resorts of Isola 2000 and Auron are an hour’s drive from the city centre. Most weekends from November to April the locals will drive up to the ski resorts for a day’s ski-ing.
Nice is a city of diversity, museums, art galleries, the magnificent Opera House, and the destination of many festivals and celebrations throughout the year.
Why not follow the trend of the Romans and Victorians before you and enjoy an out of season break in the warm ambient temperatures.