Nice, named after the Greek word, Nike (victory,) has been a temperate, seaside playground since the time of the Greeks. The centre of France’s “Cote d’Azur,” (azure coast,) Nice is the largest city between Marseilles and Genoa.
Nice’s flower market is colourful, bustling, and inviting. Located in the old town, this daily market boasts fresh produce as well as a myriad of exotic and affordable flowers: violets, jonquils, and birds of paradise. On Mondays, the market switches to a flea and antiques market. (also fun.)
Things To Do In Nice
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Nice along the Mediterranean coast of France, there are a variety of things to see and do in this delightful climate.
It’s glamorous and chic. Stretching over ten miles from the port to the airport, the beach (plage in French) at Nice is made of small, smooth stones. The major hotels along this strip have beach pavilions with shore-side drink service and small cafes. There is usually a charge for a chaise, but the experience is well worth it.
The Promenade des Anglais
Much loved by locals and visitors alike, the palm-tree-lined Promenade des Anglais (English Promenade) stretches for several miles along the Mediterranean shore. Named after a 19th-century English visitor, Lewis Way, who financed the construction of the two-meter wide path, the promenade is popular with rollerbladers, skateboarders, dog owners, and those just out for a leisurely stroll.
Along the promenade are the Ruhl Casino; the fabulous, art deco Negresco Hotel; and the Musee Massena a neo-classical mansion devoted to decorative arts (see more on the museum below.) Best of all, there is no charge to enjoy the breathtaking sea views. The promenade is lined with delightful, seaside restaurants and boasts some of the best street food around – fresh crepes, fruit drinks, and pan bagna sandwiches, a kind of Nicoise salad on a bun.
A Day-Trip to the Principality of Monaco
The former home of Princess Grace and the ancestral home of the ruling Grimaldi family, Monaco is just fifteen minutes outside of Nice by train or car. Everything about Monaco screams luxury. The casino there is a “belle-epoque” masterpiece with gilt ceilings, sweeping staircases, and dripping, crystal chandeliers. This is not “Vegas.” There is a strict formality to the casino here as well as a dress code. Roulette is the game of choice here, although slot machines and blackjack (called vingt-et-un here) are also played.
The Old town
The old town of Nice is located in the centre of town, just up from the port. This area is a maze of narrow streets, Italianate facades, and terra cotta tile. The area is teaming with activity. Here are the less expensive, ethnic restaurants in Nice. Try a pissaladiere, the Nicoise, onion and black olive pizza. Located within the old town is the pedestrian zone, lined with cafes, bookstores, clothing stores, and food shops. Pause a minute to enjoy the street entertainers who people the zone.
The Lavender Fields and Perfume Manufacturers of Grasse
Violets, roses, jasmine, and most notably lavender, are grown here for the French perfume industry. Rows of lavender plants in full bloom basking in the sun evoke the feel of an impressionist painting. They also produce a light, lavender perfume in Grasse. Many of the manufacturers are open to visitors. There is even a perfume history museum there. This is worth the trip just for the natural beauty.
The Matisse Museum
The sunny, bold colours of the Riviera are visible throughout the work of Henri Matisse. The Mediterranean Sea sparkles through open windows in many of his paintings. This comprehensive museum showcases his vast body of paintings, sculptures, engravings, drawings, and paper cutouts from his early efforts to those of his later years. Opened in 1963, the Matisse Museum’s core collection was donated by the artist himself to the city of Nice, where he lived from 1918 to 1954. Located on Cimiez Hill, the museum also features some of Matisse’s own household items and the artwork of his many artist friends. A gift shop sells Matisse prints.
The Port of Nice in the centre of town is home to delicious seafood restaurants, trendy dance clubs, and sweeping water views. This is a major working port, second only to Marseilles along France’s Mediterranean coast. Sit at a cafe table along the wharf and watch the bustling activity as ships are loaded and unloaded. This is also a major ferry port with boats departing for St. Tropez, Corsica, and beyond.
Get Out of town
Nice is centrally located along the Riviera coast. Just a short drive or train ride away are Cannes, home of the famous film festival and a beautiful, sand beach; Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a chic beach-side community with a small casino, relaxed atmosphere, and breathtaking views; Antibes, another thriving beach town and home of the Picasso Museum; and Villefranche-sur-Mer, Nice’s nearest neighbour to the east, a lovely Provencal shipping village with traditional, narrow streets and taupe stucco architecture. For a day trip, take the ferry to St. Tropez, that playground of the rich and famous, and stroll along the rows of million-dollar yachts.
The St Pierre Chapel in Villefranche-sur-Mer
The Chapel St-Pierre in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer (just five miles east of Nice) is breathtaking in its simplicity. The stone walls of this romanesque, 14th-century chapel are covered with frescos by artist, author, and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau as a tribute to the fisherman of Villefranche. His designs are soft, circular, and moving. No longer used for regular services, this small chapel is a wonderful place to stop for a moment and reflect.
Many artists have been inspired by the Mediterranean coast and temperate Provencal climate. Picasso, Monet, Sisley, Dufy, and Degas have all left a body of work depicting this area of the south of France. Many fine examples are housed in the Musee des Beaux-Arts (the Museum of the fine arts) in Nice. This 19th-century Italianate mansion – worthy of a visit itself – houses a large collection of Dufy paintings as well as works by Boudin, Sisley, and Degas. There is a lively exhibit of belle-epoque commercial poster art as well.
Also atop Cimiez Hill is the Marc Chagall museum. Exiled from Russia, Chagall became a French citizen in 1937. The museum in Nice is devoted to his biblical themes. The paintings, lithographs, engravings, and stained-glass windows displayed here were a gift from the artist. The bold colours and abstract designs positively jump from the walls.
Also worth a visit is The Massena Art and History Museum (mentioned above) on the Promenade des Anglais. This mansion houses a large collection of decorative arts representative of the Nice-Piedmont region: furniture, faience ware, jewellery, and ceramics.