City, Coast and Mountains
Fabulous Nice, capital of the The French Riviera, occupies a prime position on the graceful iridescent curve of the Baie des Anges, or Bay of Angels, which stretches from Cap d’Antibes in the west to Cap Ferrat in the east. Moreover, Nice’s Italianate charm, resulting from a long association with its neighbour; its Baroque buildings; near perfect climate; and setting at the foot of the Alps all contribute to its appeal.
Nice stretches out beside the Mediterranean Sea along a coast that English speakers often call The French Riviera but which is locally known as the Côte d’Azur. While it was the English who discovered its delights during the mid 19th century, the secret eventually emerged and the Riviera soon established itself as an international playground.
Inland L’Arrière Pays Niçois, literally Nice Beyond is Nice’s back-country, a region of craggy mountains and wooded valleys that’s largely protected by the Parc National du Mercantour.
Place Rossetti Vieux Nice
Formerly an Italian City and part of the County of Nice in the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, “Nizza la Bella” or “Nice the Beautiful” became part of France in 1860. But its story goes way back, as Nice is believed to be one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Evidence of settlers from 230,000 years ago was found in the Terra Amata archaeological site, although it is thought that the area was inhabited much earlier – up to 400,000 years ago. The Greeks of Marseille founded a permanent settlement in Nice – then known as Nikaia, after Nike, the goddess of victory – in 350 BC, and over time it grew to become a vital port city. The Romans too were here, as you might expect, and founded their settlement at Cimiez further up the hill.
Today, the port is a bustling place filled with yachts, pleasure craft and a few fishing boats. Because the Bassin Lympia is quite shallow, ferries tie up outside the main port while cruise liners have to drop anchor in the deeper Rade de Villefranche next door to Nice.
The seafront location also earned it a high spot in the tourism stakes, and Nice is now the second-most visited place in France after Paris. It’s got the climate, the landscape, and the culture. Artists such as Matisse were drawn to the city’s soft hues and spectacular beauty, and after an amble along the Promenade des Anglais or a wander through the twisting lanes and looming buildings of the Old Town, you’ll soon see what all the fuss is about.
The Bassin Lympia
It’s the same thing that brings artists, writers, foodies, holidaymakers, dignitaries and everyone in-between here in their droves.
In essence, it’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s welcoming… and it’s really rather nice.
Nice France Travel Tip: The English Way
The main walkway in Nice is La Promenade des Anglais – Promenade of the English – runs for almost five miles along the city’s lovely sweeping seafront, the Bay of Angels.
Back in the 18th century, wealthy tourists and English families came to visit Nice for its mild winters and attractive panorama, staying in houses set back from the sea. The story goes that in the latter half of the 1700s, a particularly cold French winter brought many vagrants south to Nice. A number of wealthy Englishmen proposed a project for them – building a promenade along the sea – which was eventually to become the Camin dei Anglès, the ‘English Way’. The Niçois referred to it as the ‘English Way’ in their native dialect, Nissart, but it was later translated to La Promenade des Anglais following the incarnation of Nice as a French city in 1860.
The Promenade des Anglais
The promenade has long been the favoured walkway of the rich and famous, and today it’s no different. The bowler hats, gowns and frilly parasols may have been replaced by faux fur, designer handbags and miniature dogs, not to mention the toned joggers with iPods and spray tans. But the promenade is still the big-screen face of Nice. And what better way to enjoy the ‘English Way’ – or is it the French way? – than sitting by the seafront with those panoramic views and a Kir Royale before you…
Nice France Things To Do & See
Nice’s next door neighbour, just beyond Mt Boron, is the charming resort of Villefranche-sur-Mer. With a beautiful harbour set in a sheltered bay and a fascinating old town, Villefranche boasts a great beach and on Sunday has a brocante or flea market to die for.
The sheltered bay mentioned above is the Rade de Villefranche which acts as a deep water anchorage for Nice. As a result you will often see huge cruise liners which visit Nice but are unable to anchor in the shallow Bassin Lympia.
There is also the very pleasant inner harbour, or Darse, which is used by stylish pleasure craft and colourful fishing boats. For nature lovers there are whale and dolphin spotting trips which operate from the nearby Gare Maritime.
History buffs will be intrigued by the very unusual rue Obscure, a 13th century covered street, 130m/142yds long, below the old buildings and very like the covered street in nearby Dolceacqua. Originally built as a normal street it was soon covered over by houses as the town expanded. At the entrance to the rue Obscure check out some artwork by Jean Cocteau.
Don’t miss: the Chapelle St-Pierre which is also adorned with Jean Cocteau,s frescoes or the 16th century Citadelle high above the town.
2. Tuck in
Like any French town worth its salt, Nice has some tasty local dishes that are well worth a try. The city is of course packed with bistros, brasseries, wine bars, cafes and restaurants, each stamping their own influence on local favourites and adding new twists to old classics. Salade niçoise is one of the most famous dishes – a mixed salad topped with tuna, anchovies, hard-boiled eggs and dressed with a vinaigrette. Try the local Pissaladière – a baked savoury tart made with anchovies – or Socca, a rough crepe made from chickpea flour. Ratatouille is another local favourite that has become world-renowned.
3. All that Jazz
Visit Nice in July and enjoy a jazz spectacle of international proportions. The first festival in 1948 featured Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, which kicked off an annual event and set the standard for forthcoming acts. Over the years, the line-up has brought big-name artists to the city. Such stars as Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis graced the stage and made return visits to the festival, which has been described as the “flashiest” jazz festival in Europe. The festival has moved and swayed a little over the years, bringing in more world music and pop; but jazz is still very much at its heart.
This year it is on from 17th to 21st July 2020
The Cours Saleya Market
Markets in Nice
The Cours Selaya between Place Massena and Vieux Nice hosts a daily market, selling flowers and local produce Tuesdays-Sundays, and antiques on Mondays. Other markets take place throughout the city from Tuesdays – Sundays.
Nice Top Restaurants
Fruits de Mer
Our selection of restaurants in Nice
22 Rue A. Karr, 06000 Nice
04 93 16 00 48
A delightful fish and seafood restaurant. Dine in the restaurant for daily set menus with such main courses as sea bream with oyster tartar, grilled turbot, and lobster. Or opt for the bistro for reasonably-priced menus with daily specials. Prices range from €16 for lunch up to the €80 mark.
20 Avenue Mar. Foch, 06000 Nice
04 93 62 98 24
A superb Michelin-starred restaurant serving cutting-edge contemporary French cuisine with such mouth-watering delicacies as veal pâte. Each dish is delicately prepared and visually stunning, paired with a wine suggestion to complement the flavours. This is seriously fine dining. Prices range from €50 up to €80+
Nice France Driving Distances
Driving distances from Nice to nearby cities:
Monte Carlo (Monaco) – 21km / 13 miles
Cannes – 32km / 20 miles
Toulon – 150km / 93 miles
Aix-en-Provence – 176km / 109 miles
Marseille – 205km / 127 miles
Avignon – 261km / 162 miles
Nice Tourist Office
5 Promenade des Anglais, 06000 Nice
08 92 70 74 07
Nice France Property Scene
Nice is an attractive and affluent Riviera city. While the general expectation should be one of high prices, there are many properties north of the railway station that are more affordable, while others within more desirable locations such as the Old City just require a little modernisation.
A relatively new tram system, which was further extended in 2019, has boosted the transportation network and provided access to the outer reaches of the city, while the arrival of regular low-cost scheduled flights has invigorated an already booming tourism industry.
On the whole, it may be an affluent coastal city sandwiched by such glitzy locations as Monte Carlo and Cannes. But although many prices may be eye-watering, it’s well worth hunting for bargains as the buy-to-let market is generally a positive one. And Nice is also considered a cheaper option than Cannes.
Other articles featured in this Provençal series are:
Nice’s Best App
For further information about Nice and the French Riviera in general check out my Travel App Nice’s Best available for iPhone and Android. This is the ideal travel guide to the CITY, the COAST and the MOUNTAINS beyond. Its 165 photos and 28,000 words explore key aspects of the CITY; detail SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES; outline ITINERARIES; and suggest great places to EAT, DRINK and be ENTERTAINED. All content is original and fully-independent; so no recommendations are ads!