Ten Things to do in Nice France: the insider’s guide to transport, the best places to sit and sip while you people watch, museums, music and markets…Nice is one of those gorgeous southern French towns that can make you forget everywhere else, its beauty is alluring says author Patricia Sands…
I’ll be honest, my heart is stuck in Antibes. We lived there for five months in 2011 when I was writing The Promise of Provence and I would settle in its charming vieille ville in a heartbeat! However, there are two of us in the decision-making process when we are in France each year and my husband prefers to be in Nice La Belle where there exists an abundance of choices when planning your day. I don’t disagree with that – it’s all good.
In a taxi one day, I mentioned how happy I was to be back in Nice. The driver asked me to tell him why – in one word! Apart from the setting, the people, the food, the wine, the history, the culture, this is what I said!
1. Colour – It’s everywhere! There’s a unique fusion of light and color to be found wherever you look, from the sky to the Mediterranean to the elegant architecture that combines the colors of Italy with the grace of France.
The hues of the sea and sky present shades of blue, turquoise and azure unique to this jewel on the coast. This rare luminosity has attracted artists for centuries and continues to create a magical effect. On rare grey winter days, as the light shifts and changes, the multi-hued palette of Nice La Belle remains: pink, ecru, teal, olive, terra cotta, peach, turquoise, amber, to list just a few – in fading pastels or bold shades, the textures and colors command our attention.
2. La Promenade des Anglais – Beginning the morning or ending the afternoon with a stroll or bike ride on “La Prom” is a perfect opportunity to people watch. A dip in the Med, an hour or two with a good book, followed by a catch-of-the-day lunch at one of the beach restaurants makes for a relaxing day.
3. Vieux Nice and Cours Saleya Market – Of course you have to share the space with tons of tourists in summer but that doesn’t stop me from soaking in the intrigue and atmosphere of these narrow alleyways. Stop at the market several times a week to restock the larder, listen to the banter of the vendors, and choose fresh flowers. The marché des brocantes on Mondays is a great time to schmeetz with friends. Be sure to check out the vintage postcards! Pause for a café au lait or one of Theresa’s soccas (for the drama, if not the taste!).
4. Terrace time – Oh the choices! Nice has many colorful squares and walkways that provide endless options to sit and sip. Each has its own ambiance and attraction. Place Rossetti, in the heart of the old town is lovely, surrounded by colorful Italian architecture, and in front of the baroque Cathédral Sainte-Réparate. Quiet in the early morning, by afternoon, the square is full of conversation, music and energy. You never know what or who might come along.
5. Walking everywhere #1 in my list – Le vieux port, Nice, to Villefranche-sur-Mer Nice is a city that invites one to become a flaneûr. Whether it’s a rue pieton (pedestrian street) or the sentier along the coast, there is something for everyone. One of my favorites is to stop at the old port for an early petit déjeuner, then hike up the hill to a stunning view that stays with you as you continue to Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Some days we simply stroll the sidewalk for the 5K walk and other times we take our time and climb the hill to the Parc du Mont Boron. This latter route takes a little less time and the views are nothing short of breathtaking! Trust me, it’s worth the effort! Ready to go home? Take the 81 bus or the train.
6. My 3 Favourite museums: Musée Marc Chagall – A good walk from Place Masséna (my usual starting point), every visit offers a new perspective on some aspect of Chagall’s work. Villa Massena – A majestic villa on the Prom, it’s easy to find when you are strolling about. The entrance is around the back at 65 Rue de France and the exhibits present a colorful chronological history of Nice. Le Domain des Collettes – Musée Renoir. Just outside Nice, in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, this was Renoir’s last home. There’s a profoundly intimate opportunity to visit his studio, stand by his wooden wheelchair and see his brushes and personal effects. In the garden, ancient olive trees tumble down the gently sloping hill where visiting artists sit and sketch, all overlooked by the picturesque medieval castle of Haute-de-Cagnes.
7. Hop-on/Hop-off bus – It is absolutely the best way to get an overall sense of the different areas of the city and photo ops abound.
8. Music, music, music – There’s music in the air for everyone from the excellent Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice to talented street musicians. If you’re a jazz fan, check out the excellent Le Shapko. Plan your trip for the second week in July, the fabulous Nice Jazz Festival will be rocking. As well as scheduled events, street corners are frequent sites for “pop-up” jam sessions!
9. Coastal Train – No car necessary! First stop for me is Antibes and an easy walk into the vieille ville for a visit to Antibes Books – Heidi Lee’s English Bookshop. There are regular services to all the coastal towns between Saint- Raphaël and Ventimiglia. Try the lively daily market in Ventimiglia on Friday for a taste of Italy! In summer, go early in the morning and come back after dinner, the daytime trains can be packed! Even so, GO!
10. Total relaxation! Even if you choose to do none of the above, Nice is a town where you can just kick back, read a few good books in beautiful settings, stroll at your leisure, enjoy the views, sip your favorite beverage, and feel content. Life is magnifique in Nice La Belle!
For details of the museums and places mentioned please see the Nice Tourist Office website
Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, when she isn’t somewhere else. An admitted travel fanatic, she can pack a bag in a flash and be ready to go anywhere … particularly the south of France. Her award-winning debut novel The Bridge Club was published in 2010 and her second novel, The Promise of Provence was an Amazon Hot New Release in April 2013. Find Patricia at her Facebook Author Page or her blog.