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Nice, France 72-Hour Vacation

Nice is Nice
Gem of the French Riviera
By Danielle Colletti

The Côte d'Azur was "discovered" at the end of the nineteenth century as an illustrious, warm winter wonderland for the privileged classes of Great Britain, Switzerland and Russia. The climate of Nice was praised for its therapeutic benefits, which drew foreigners searching for the dry, warm weather necessary to cure their ailments. Enchanted by this undiscovered paradise, the same families returned year after year until an affluent community of royalty, courtesans and artists flourished in the prosperous atmosphere of Belle Epoque Nice.


Today, Nice is a fabulous fusion of French and Italian culture, customs and cooking. Even the language, le Niçois or Nissart, spoken almost exclusively by the local population up until the beginning of the 20th century, is a hybrid of Italian—the official language of Nice from the sixteenth century until 1860and French. This amalgam of cultures is also responsible for the wonderfully robust and flavorful Niçois cooking, based largely on olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil and other local produce.

During the summer months, millions of tourists flock to Nice's sun-baked shores, so be sure to book lodgings well in advance. Among the many hotel options, it's impossible to miss the Hôtel Negresco with its landmark pink dome, at 37, Promenade des Anglais. This splendid palace, built in 1912, is also home to the renowned restaurant Chantecler.

Palais de la Mediterranée

Also on the Promenade des Anglais, Palais de la Mediterranée is an architectural wonder with its contemporary Art Deco décor, elevated swimming pool and sophisticated spa—the latter both offer an unobstructed view of the sea. Close to Old Nice, the Château and the port, La Pérouse is a waterfront hotel that enjoys a breathtaking view of the Baie des Anges, a pool, rooftop bar and country-style décor. Close to the chic pedestrian shopping area is the Boscolo Group’s Hôtel Plaza, while its sister hotel next door, the Park, enjoys the same ideal location and sea view while offering spacious terraces. Boscolo’s third hotel, the Hotel Windsor, is situated in the center of town, minutes from the Promenade des Anglais and the pedestrian area. This handsome stone hotel boasts a lush garden and small pool. Original, comfortable rooms are artfully decorated; most of those facing the garden have balconies. There is also a pleasant, intimate bar. Also centrally located is The Busby Hotel where a friendly, familial atmosphere reigns. The beautiful Belle Epoque breakfast room is particularly pleasant.

The Happy Bar

Former residence of filmmaker Sacha Guitry, the Hotel du Petit Palais is a hidden jewel high on the hill of Cimiez, Nice’s chic residential neighborhood. The Hi Hotel, designed by a former collaborator of Philippe Starck, offers unique technological twists, such as a sofa with a built-in sound system and virtual "walls" that materialize with the help of a projector. The Happy Bar moves to the beat of its own soundtrack and features visiting DJs. An organic restaurant offers healthful Provençal specialties. A hammam and small rooftop pool add to the sense of well-being.


Start your day early in Vieux Nice (Old Nice), with a café crème in the Cours Saleya, a prime spot from which to observe the vibrant Marché aux Fleurs (flower market). In addition to a colorful assortment of regional flora, this market specializes in locally grown fruits and vegetables and regional products such as honey, lavender, preserves and—of course—olive oil. Don't miss the vast assortment of exquisitely confected marzipan figures and rich candied fruit, which make for excellent, inexpensive souvenirs. If you prefer a more structured overview of Old Nice, make your way to the Palais Lascari, a magnificent Baroque palace that is now a museum and the meeting point for several guided tours throughout Nice. For specific information, contact the palace directly.

Before leaving the Cours Saleya, pay a visit to Thérèse, the legendary socca merchant of Old Nice. Sample a piece of giant crèpe made from chickpea flour and olive oil, or opt for a slice of pissaladière, a savory onion tart garnished with delectable Niçois olives and drizzled with olive oil. After indulging in some of Nice's most cherished delicacies, climb the sweeping stone stairs to the Château de Nice where you will be rewarded with another delicious treat, a breathtaking view of the Baie des Anges. For those that prefer to save their breath during their visit to this ancient site, use the lift at the foot of the cliff.

The Château de Nice, dismantled by Louis XIV in 1706, is now a shady, peaceful park affording several ideal vantage points on the sprawling coastline. If you have the time and aren't quite ready to descend back into the busy city below, consider meandering in the adjacent Cimitière du Château, a Jewish cemetery that is one of the most beautiful resting grounds in the world.

Auer's chocolate-covered almonds

For lunch, you can either stroll along the port and choose among several fine seafood restaurants or venture back into the narrow streets of Old Nice for more indigenous cooking. If you can't get enough of the Cours Saleya, Safari boasts a long list of local dishes such as daube (meat-filled ravioli), beignets of zucchini flowers and farcis (stuffed vegetables). For a lighter version of regional dishes in a refined setting, reserve at the Petite Maison on rue St. François de Paule—steps from City Hall, the Opera House and Alziari, an indispensable source for fragrant olive oil, jars of tapenade and big green bars of olive oil soap. Cross the street and sample the addictive chocolate-covered almonds at Auer, an old fashioned confectionary dating back to 1820. Or perhaps you prefer a sumptuous gelato to accompany you on your mid-afternoon journey through the winding web of streets in Old Nice.

Cathedral of Ste. Reparate

Baroque treasures are next on your agenda. Begin at the Prefecture and take rue Ste. Reparate to the Place Rosetti where Finocchio, an enticing gelateria, offers sinful Italian ice cream. If you're feeling guilty after your sweet indulgence, confess next door at the Cathedral of Ste. Reparate. Named after the patron saint of Nice, this impressive church is an excellent example of the Baroque architecture that flourished in Nice during the seventeenth century. Explore further into the picturesque vieux ville or turn around and take rue Reparate back to rue Droite, where another Baroque treasure is nestled peacefully in the quiet place du Gesu. The petit Eglise du Gesu, one of the oldest parishes in Nice, was inspired by a Roman church but built in 1642 by a Niçois architect. The restricted interior is resplendent with cherubs, flower garlands and gilded stuccos. If you'd like to contemplate the handsome exterior while enjoying a rustic pizza or plate of fresh pasta, reserve for dinner at the charming Restaurant du Gesu, a simple-yet-authentic Niçois restaurant discreetly tucked away from the hordes of summertime tourists. Ristorante La Voglia is a popular Italian spot in Old Nice that draws locals and tourists for huge portions of high-quality cooking at moderate prices.

If you prefer to venture out of Old Nice for dinner and if lunch plans didn't include a visit to the port, don't exclude this destination, which makes for a particularly pleasant evening program. After admiring the array of yachts in the marina, relax at the upscale L'Ane Rouge, a sophisticated seafood restaurant serving modern interpretations of classical regional dishes. Continue to Day 2


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(Updated: 04/13/06)

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