When I blithely announced that my next mini-break was to be Nice, I got a few raised eyebrows and the odd frown. Even my friend and travel companion wasn’t convinced.
“Nice? Bit chi-chi isn’t it? Lots of Russian millionaires and super-yachts.”
But, when you want a quick Friday-Sunday beach-break, complete with cheap flights, you can’t be too picky. So we swallowed our misgivings and set off.
Coming into land was encouraging. The plane swept over a stunning landscape of rugged hills, jagged coastline and neat harbours (super-yachts a-bobbing). The landing strip is in the middle of the sea, which makes for a rather dramatic entrance.
By happy chance, we stumbled upon exactly the right place to stay: Overlooking the harbour, 10 minutes walk from the Old Town. This is a safe distance from the concrete high rises which loom over the western end of the city. And is ideally suited for a night-cap at a trendy street-side café on the Rue Lascaris or Rue Bonaparte.
Comptoir Central Électrique was our favorite. Grab an outside table and keep yourself entertained by seeing who is (and isn’t) granted admittance into the gay club next door.
The next morning stroll around the harbour, past an impossibly blue sea, and head in the direction of the market. Stretching along the Cours Saleya, it is a glorious medley of fruit, vegetables and flowers, all piled high and ablaze with colour. Plump figs, glossy cherries, vast bouquets of green herbs, and piles of bright yellow courgette flowers. Plenty of opportunities to pop a pain au chocolat, quiche lorraine or petits farcis niçois (or all of the above) into your mouth as you wander.
Behind the market, the narrow labyrinthine streets zigzag between old buildings with crumbling facades of yellow plasterwork and bright greens shutters. You may well find yourself in the Place de Rossetti, browsing old prints and ancient, leather-bound books.
Stop for a quick pression before embarking on a steep but rewarding climb to the Parc de la Colline du Château, a beautiful, historic park with wonderful views over the terracotta roofs of the Old Town, and the crystalline blue of the Mediterranean.
Wind your way back down to the habour on the other side, and follow the waterfront eastwards, away from the crowds and towards lunch.
Le Plongeoir used, in fact, to be a plongeoir (diving board) off which fearless youths used to throw themselves. No doubt to the arch approval of the local mademoiselles. Sadly these days are gone. But in its place perches a lovely restaurant of the same name. Not a cheap option, but quite something, with salty breezes, uninterrupted sea views, and waves smashing dramatically into the rocks below. The food is good too. To say nothing for the rosé.
From here you can join the locals amongst the rocks of Coco Beach and dip into the sea – if it is calm enough to let you.
Evening in the Old Town. We ate a good dinner at Bistrot d’Antoine, where our waiter was charmingly scornful of our attempt to order pinot noir to go with steak and foi gras…
There are no end of choices, but the better places get booked up, so it is worth doing your homework and booking in advance. Next time I will try L’Octopussy, a Corsican restaurant recommended to me by a colleague. If you get there before me, let me know how it was.
Blue skies and squawking seagulls herald a new day. Delhi Bo is the place to have brunch, where you can enjoy an excellent Eggs Benedict, amongst other delights.
Now for a day on the beach. And a chance to explore a more of the Cote d’Azur. Hop on the number 81 bus and, after a very scenic 25 minutes, you’ll arrive in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Here you will find a quiet beach in a sheltered bay behind Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat. The sea is calm and the atmosphere sedate. Smart yachts nod sleepily in the bay, presided over by elegant old villas, their high walls frothing with pink bougainvillea.
If you get yourself organized, a spot on the private beach of Anao Plage can probably be arranged, complete with cushioned sun lounger and attentive waiters. But equally, you can stretch yourself on the sand for free, enjoying the same view and swimming in the same sea.
The French Riviera has no shortage of opulent villas, no doubt all boasting their own flavour of infamous Hollywood intrigue. The Grand Dame amongst them must be the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild – an imposing pile of pink stucco, built by Béatrice de Rothschild in 1910. I’m told the house (packed to the gills with objets d’art) and garden (one of the most notable in France apparently) are well worth a visit.
Follow the Promenade Maurice Rouvier along the peninsula and you’ll happen upon another celebrated gem of the Riviera, La Fleur du Cap. Owned by Charlie Chaplin, painted by Churchill, featured in the Pink Panther, and home to oh-so-suave David Niven, this villa is of undisputed pedigree. Its dusky pink walls are swathed in purple flowers, azure waters lap at its outer walls, housing cool pines and no doubt a jewel of a garden. It is still privately owned, so you will have to content yourself with snapping photos from a respectable distance.
A tantalizing glimpse, enough to lure me back to the Cote d’Azur another time.
Have you been to Nice? Did you love it? Let me know in the comments below!