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St. Tropez and Cannes may get a lot of attention, but sleepy sister town Nice is stepping up its game with a slew of new restaurants and nightlife, making it a top destination for summer travel in the South of France. Contributing writer Lane Nieset takes you there.
It’s not hard to claim a spot in the sun to spread out, even when the city is filled with travelers in the summertime. The locals tend to flock to the new green space, Coulée Verte, a public park that runs between the Old Town and center of Nice. The park is filled with fountains and play areas for children, but it’s also a great place to stroll through or spread out on the grass and read a book.
Perched above the port on the edge of the Promenade des Anglais, Castle Hill is another green space with a spectacular view. Pack a blanket and picnic and climb up the steps to the top of the hill, where you’ll find a waterfall, park and panoramic views of Nice and the Promenade des Anglais.
Further uphill in Nice lies Cimiez, a great neighborhood to explore and also the home of the Chagall and Matisse museums. The South of France, especially Nice, has inspired many artists and writers who made their home here, and the Henri Matisse Museum (which is free to visit) is a great example of that, set in the 17th century villa where the artist once lived. After exploring the artist’s work, wander around the area outside the villa and check out the Gallo-Roman ruins and the Franciscan monastery with Italianate gardens full of roses and sweeping views of Nice below.
The vibe in Nice is extremely laid back, so a popular way to spend the day in the summer is by pulling up a chair at an outdoor café and soaking up the sun. On the Promenade des Anglais, Ark is a popular spot for sipping wine on the second-story terrace and taking in views of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. Just beyond the promenade in the Cours Saleya, the pedestrian area in the Old Town, there are tons of cafes and restaurants to choose from lining the square.
Start by making your way into the Cours Saleya and checking out the famous flower market and food market that take place all week except Mondays. If you happen to be in the Cours Saleya on a Monday, you’ll find the weekly antiques market filling the street with everything from furniture to vintage cameras, clothing, jewelry and records. While you’re walking through the market stalls, pause along the way for a coffee at Café des Fleurs, located just across from the flower market.
Where to Eat and Drink:
On the street behind the Cours Saleya, stop by Café Marché for homemade breakfast goodies and coffee at the cute little café owned by a Niçoise local who shops at the market each morning for organic produce for the daily changing menu. The Sunday brunch is also a don’t-miss, but be sure to reserve a spot because the café fills up fast.
Over in the up-and-coming port area off of the Place Garibaldi, Déli Bo whips up a delicious lunch menu with items like truffle Croque Monsieur and a selection of French pastries in an intimate space that overflows to a small outdoor terrace. Just across the street is another spot that’s drawing the hipster crowd for apéro and evening drinks, Comptoir Central Électrique, a bar with a quirky design of Scandinavian-style furniture, exposed walls, a library and fireplace lining the wall, and funky lights hanging from the ceiling—plus a killer selection of craft cocktails.
Deeper into the port district, cocktail bar Le Bar’Oc draws a fashionable crowd with its low lighting and lounge-like feel, and DJs spinning into the night. If you’re looking for a romantic meal or an upscale dinner spot, just nearby is Jan, which serves up gourmet French fare with a South African twist.
Best Beach Spots:
You’re in the French Riviera, after all, so there is no lack of beaches. Take your pick depending on what your preference is. The beaches in Nice lining the Promenade des Anglais are known for being rocky, but there are plenty of water sports spots, such as Neptune Beach in front of the Hôtel Negresco, which offers parasailing and paddle boarding.
Off the Beaten Path Insider Tip: The nearby town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, just a 15 minute bus ride (local buses are just 1.50 EUR, about $2.03, each way) from Nice, is known for having some of the nicest beaches in the region. If you head further east on the train toward Monaco (less than 20 minutes from Nice) you’ll come to Cap d’Ail and its private beaches and restaurants, like Eden Plage Mala, with beach beds, paddle boats and jet skis for rent.
If it’s sandy beaches you’re after, make your way to the Plage de Passable in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. More secluded, this spot is a bit trickier to get to (take the number 81 bus from the port in Nice and get off at the Office de Tourisme stop), but worth the extra effort. It’s also the start of one of the trails lining the peninsula. Choose one of the hiking paths, and follow the rocky coastline where you can pause along the way for a picnic or go cliff jumping into the turquoise water.
During the summer, the beaches also come alive as private beach bars reopen and festivities take place. One of the most popular events held each summer is Les Plages Electroniques, an electronic festival taking over the beach in Cannes on select nights. Think summer music festival at the beach with dancing in the sand to artists like Pretty Lights and Zeds Dead.
Where to Stay:
The Promenade des Anglais overlooking the Mediterranean is packed with luxury hotels in a prime location with plenty of amenities. Check into the 143-room AC Hotel Nice by Marriott boasting a rooftop pool on the terrace with views of the city. The hotel is a Category 7 property, requiring 35,000 Marriott Rewards or room rates start at 259 EUR ($353) per night in the summer. Le Méridian, also on the Promenade des Anglais with stunning sea views, is an SPG Category 5 property requiring 12,000 to 16,000 Starpoints and nightly rates starting at EUR 310 ($415). The Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée dates back to 1929 and is all Jazz Age opulence inside its Art Deco facade. Featuring a solarium with both indoor and outdoor pools and picturesque views, this 187-room hotel starts at 629 EUR ($842) per night.
Near the designer shopping and pedestrian part of Nice, the 57-room Hotel Windsor is a great option if you’re on a budget, but still want a design hotel. The boutique hotel has an artsy feel with new contemporary art installations each year, rooms featuring designs from different artists, and a tropical garden with a pool. Rates for a basic room start at 97 EUR ($132) during summer, while rates for a superior garden room with bath start at 157 EUR ($214).
Perhaps the most iconic hotel in Nice, the historic Hôtel Negresco boasts a roster of kings and celebrities who have stayed the night over the past 100 years. The 117-room hotel, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, has a classic design inspired by different periods of art and rulers, such as King Louis XV and Empress Josephine (think gilded walls and chandeliers) with views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Rates start at about 330 EUR ($449).
Have you been to Nice lately? What are some of your favorite spots?