A four day break in Nice, France
Landing in Nice at night is a lovely experience! The lights from the Promenade des Anglais bedeck the shoreline of this lovely French Riviera city like a diamond necklace. The runway is flanked on one side by the sea and on the other by the city. I was surprised to discover that Nice airport is the third busiest in France. It didn’t seem that large or that busy; however I suspect that much of its traffic is made up of the many private jets we saw on the tarmac.
I don’t know if it there are always as many, or if it was because the Monaco Grand Prix was on a few days later, but it was overrun with them!
Nice was the first airport I have ever arrived into where there was a bank of airport transfer desks which dealt exclusively with helicopter transfers, rather than the usual bus or taxi transfer options! As it was after 10pm on a Sunday night, we found it difficult to get information about how mere mortals like us could get the 6km from the airport into the city centre. Apart from taking a taxi (which I dislike doing as I feel tourists are a great target for fare-hiking), the only other option was the Airport Express Bus (bus 98 or 99).
We recommend planning your transfer in advance through us (about €70 return for a car with up to 4 passengers) as Ligne d'Azur who run the bus system in Nice are not renowed for their customer service - our driver refused to speak to us and insisted that we buy two tickets or get off as he was busy chatting to a friend on his phone. There is a tram line under construction which will provide an extra option in the future and may even encourage some customer service.
We stayed in the Kyriad Centre Gare, a cheap and cheerful hotel located just off the top of the main thoroughfare of Jean Medécin which is the long, straight street which runs right through the city centre.
This street is filled with shops and restaurants. It was about a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel straight down this street to Macena Square, or you could take the tram (identical to the Luas!) which stopped around the corner if you prefer. Our room was fine, nothing fancy, but it was clean, quiet and comfortable and the staff were helpful. I would stay there again.
Nice is absolutely full of cafés and restaurants! They are everywhere and there are so many types of food to choose from. Our favourite restaurant over the course of our four day stay was La Planxa which was a two minute walk from our hotel. The menu was small but the service and food was excellent and it very reasonable. It was the sort of food you felt good after eating!
Nice city centre is quite compact and not hilly. You can walk around all the main tourist sites easily enough. Weather-wise Nice gets a lot of sunshine, making strolling around very pleasant.
On and around Avenue Jean Medécin there are loads of shops - both independent shops and chain stores. There were also some large department stores, such as Galeries Lafayette and Nice Etoile.
There are also plenty of markets in the city, from antiques (Mondays at Le Cours Saleya) to food to flowers (daily except Monday at Le Cours Saleya) and it was lovely to potter around them.
Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour
I always like to do a Hop-On-Hop Off Bus tour when I am in a new city as I find it is a good way to get a feel for a city. However I'd find it very hard to recommend this one! For a start, the buses were very infrequent (we waited about an hour for one to appear although they were advertised as being every 30 minutes). The commentary was not completely in sync with our position and as stops were not announced, you’d have to follow your map very closely if you wanted to get off.
We didn’t bother getting off as we were afraid it would take too long for another one to come! The one consolation was that as it was the summer season when we were there, the bus tour also took us out to Villefranche-Sur-Mer, a neighbouring village of Nice which was very pretty and worth driving through. The bus tour cost €22 each for a 24 hour ticket.
We pre-booked a one-day tour of the Riviera which was a wonderful day out! We were collected from our hotel around 8am and we headed west from Nice first, where our first stop was Cannes. The town was winding down after the Film Festival which had just ended. Known as the Beverly Hills of France, it is home to many designer shops, upmarket hotels and fast cars!
From there we went to Antibes, a gorgeous walled market town with a lovely marina. The town is full of charming shops and has a lovely sandy beach. We got to spend some time at its market which was in full swing when we arrived and we tried Socca, a type of local crêpe made from chickpea flour. It’s a town I'd like to come back to. It would make a lovely beach holiday destination - something a little bit different.
Our next stop was Saint-Paul De Vence, where we arrived in time for lunch. This hilltop medieval village is home to many artists and is a warren of narrow, winding and often very steep streets. There are many art galleries and artisan shops there.
After lunch, we headed east, bound for the town of Èze. This is another hilltop town which dates back to the middle ages and again its streets are narrow, winding and steep, something to bear in mind if you have walking difficulties. If you are able to, it is worth the climb to the top of the village, as the views of the surrounding countryside and sea are stunning.
We visited the Fragonard perfume and cosmetic factory there and spent an interesting and relaxing hour or so watching their processes and sampling their lovely goods.
Our last stop was Monaco and Monte Carlo.
Monaco is a little country in its own right, of which Monte Carlo is the capital. Monte Carlo takes up most of the area of Monaco. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world (the smallest is the Vatican City) and it is surrounded on three sides by France and by the Mediterranean on its other side. Its current head of state is Prince Albert II, son of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace.
Their marriage brought Monaco onto the world stage in the 1950s. You can visit the palace where they lived and you can also visit their graves. Monte Carlo is home to a large harbour in which some seriously impressive yachts are moored!
While we were in Monte Carlo, the Grand Prix was being set up. We got to drive the route and see the signage and seating which had been installed which was an unexpected bonus!
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
On our final day in Nice, we visited the mansion once owned by the Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild (of Rothschild family fame) in the village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. To get there, we took bus 81 from the Promenade des Arts in Nice. The bus journey is very scenic and takes about 40-50 minutes. Bus tickets were only €1.50 each way. A ticket to visit both the house and garden costs just €7 - for this you get an audio guide and you can wander around both the house and spectacular gardens yourself in your own time. The fountain and music show near the exit rounds off the visit beautifully. There is a tea room there too but the prices are quite high so plan accordingly food-wise. For example tea and a pastry is €11. The bus coming back to Nice was very busy so if you are unable to stand for long periods, I would suggest taking a taxi.
In summary Nice is a very clean, elegant and pleasant city and we spent a lovely few days there. As it’s just over a 2 hour flight from Dublin, it makes an ideal short break destination, but equally there is enough in the city itself and in the surrounding area to warrant spending longer there. I think a fly-drive holiday around the gorgeous Cote d’Azur would be a lovely holiday: fly into Nice, spend 2 or 3 nights there and then drive off to its surrounding towns and villages.
And you can easily drop into San Remo and Italy from there too as the border is quite close by. Equally, Nice and its surrounding towns and villages would work well as a beach holiday. The beaches in Nice itself are pebbly, but they stretch for miles and the city has a laid-back resort feel to it. In other places such as Villefranche-Sur-Mer, Beaulieu (both very close to Nice) and Antibes they are sandy. In short Nice is a very nice place!
Written by Samantha Gavigan